Where do you take your parents to eat on their first trip to Lyon? A city of 10,000 restaurants.
This was the dilemma I was facing leading up to their arrival last weekend. With the hotel and flights booked and paid for. It was up to me to find three good restaurants to cover each of their three nights in the city. If I ever needed to use the needle in a haystack analogy, it was now.
It’s the consumer revolution I blame. The reason we can’t buy a simple beer, or a car, or a pack of cereal, or a pen. Because for every pen, there are a million shades. Every beer, a million brands. Every meal, a million menus. The agony of choice.
After some thought I decided that the best approach was to apply logic to the situation rather than typing in: parents+Lyon+restaurant+help into Google over and over again and getting the same result: Georges Brassiere in Perrache – fifty million likes. The Wetherspoons of Lyonnais cuisine. Or so it looked from the picture: a cavernous hall full of drunk men looking at offal.
So instead of thinking where could we go. Where couldn’t we go. Like the traditional Lyonnais Bouchon, for example. As no amount of parsley garnished stuffed pig’s intestines and grilled lamb’s brain would entice us there. Furthermore, anything Asian, Indian, Italian, Greek or German would defeat the object of coming to France. So they were out. As was anywhere over 30 Euros for a main course, anywhere not in the centre, and anywhere that had onions and/or bicycles hanging from the ceiling. That whittled it down to around 4,000.
The recommendations from my colleagues weren’t much use either: too far out, too expensive, too booked up, too offally, too swanky, too tacky, too closed down, or simply too French.
By Friday afternoon and with only three hours until they arrived, my imagination was stuck in a perpetual loop of visualising us wandering aimlessly round the streets of Lyon for three days pondering and then dismissing each restaurant we passed in favour of the next. So it must have been by the grace of God that Garth, my American colleague from Texas, drifted in just as I was unscrewing the cyanide capsule I kept hidden in the heel of my boot.
I ushered him into the end classroom and unrolled a couple of twenties.
‘What’s the secret buddy?’ I asked him slipping the bills into his open hand. He knew what I wanted. The Knowledge: where do you take your parents to eat in a city of a million choices. He didn’t answer. He wasn’t even looking at me.
‘OK,’ I said slapping three more twenties into his hand. ‘A hundred.’
He laughed. ‘Five.’
I told him he was crazy. ‘I’m a TEFL teacher not a gangster.’
‘Fine,’ he replied looking towards the door. ‘Then you’re gonna spend your sweet sorry English asses wandering around Lyon all weekend.’
‘Two-fifty.’ I was desperate.
He started walking.
‘Three-fifty. I haven’t got anymore. Please.’
His gaze turned towards the torrential rain outside. ‘I hope you’ve got an umbrella.’
I flung him my wallet and watched him count out all the money I had ever saved up. He then scribbled a name onto a piece of paper and walked out. By eight that evening me and my parents were sitting down to sweating beef bourguignon and blood drenched steaks with jugs of heavy Cotes du Rhone as side salads.
As we were mopping up our gravy with our bread, the conversation turned to tomorrow night and the dread returned. I instantly reached into my bag and passed the fifteen Lyonnais restaurant guide books to my father. ‘You decide.’
With a nervous smile he started leafing through the pages as though looking through a dictionary for an answer to a crossword clue he had no letters for. He didn’t get far and soon plonked the useless tomes down on the table and told the waiter to dispose of them immediately. ‘Burn them if necessary.’ I then knew what my father was about to say. ‘You know what, why don’t we just come here.’
The relief. After the agonies of the past week, I couldn’t have heard anything more pleasing. It had cost me five hundred euros. But I had not been defeated by choice. I had earned a small victory. It felt good.