Le Café Lyrique has an air about it. The name itself conjures up a sort of wistful nostalgic imaginary, like a Parisian bohemia, a Casablanca of the 1940s. And indeed, if it’s a chatty Parisian ambiance and french food you are after, this is a very pleasant choice. In fact, it is a Geneva classic that shouldn’t be missed. Established in 1881 and nestled at the crossroads of Geneva’s arts center, this is the perfect place to pick up a decent meal, casual yet stylish, before or after the opera, concert or play.
The menu: Typical Parisian brasserie though it may be, the Lyrique also offers its share of creativity in its menu. Great classic starters like endive salad with walnuts, apples and blue cheese are met with main courses like tagliatelle with poached eggs and diced bacon, and the chef uses the specials section wisely to propose other twists on old favorites. Probably one of the highlights is the dessert cart, resplendent with France’s best: tarte tatin, marquise au chocolat, were my first picks off the menu, naturally, but there was plenty more there if you’re not the apple-chocolate type……. . In short, whether fish, meat or vegetarian, the menu offers a spread that should meet just about every (french) taste.
The meal: As usual, I got to try two starters and two main courses, and I have to say here it became an even split – some were delicious, others were just good.
For starters, I got to try the basic salade du marché, which, given the season, was largely composed of rampon, grated carrots and cabbage, and a few sliced white mushrooms. The salad dressing was good (a bit acidic to my taste), and the products I think were irreproachable: the chef clearly makes a point of getting what’s fresh, in season, and in good condition. For my part, I had the pressé de lentilles vertes et grosses crevettes. The idea was nice, but the pressé was served too cold, making it the whole experience sadly tasteless. If only they had pulled it out of the fridge ahead of time, this might have been a very nice choice otherwise.
Next up the main course, and here the experience was a bit more satisfying. I pulled a special menu item, a filet de boeuf served with a nice red wine based jus, very freshly cooked seasonal vegetables, and a couple of different styles of potatoes (rosti, gratin and boiled). I found the dish to be attractively laid out, and the potatoes and vegetables were a delight. The meat was very tender and cooked rare to perfection. It did have a slight twinge to it that made me wonder if it wasn’t a bit old..
Across from me stood some mouth watering ravioles de foie gras à la confiture d’oignons (or, foie gras raviolis with caramelized onions). Now here was a dish that stood out to me. The ravioles pasta was rolled nearly paper thin, stuffed in the most refined of ways with some foie gras, and drizzled with dark caramelized onions. This gave the dish a warm sweetness to it, that was nonetheless counterpointed by enough saltiness to give it some back bone. Recommended if you fall into the pro-foie gras camp!
The dessert: Of course, I had to try the Marquise for dessert. The dark chocolate truffle cake was velvety smooth, chocolatey and sweet. My only complaint was that it was sitting in a pool of creme anglaise. Apologies in advance, but I just.hate.when they sully my chocolate with that kind of rif raf… 🙂
The green factor: The Lyrique is part of the Ambassadeurs du Terroir Genevois, dedicated to using seasonal products that are locally grown. For this they get bonus points, not just symbolically, but also because you can really tell the difference in the food. The salads and vegetables served as sides are fresh, brightly colored, crisp and delicious. To the point where it makes it seem like a rare occasion to have such produce in front of you. So don’t skip your veggies here!
The setting: What can I say, the setting is beautiful. A large, brasserie style hall with large white and black checkered marble floor, sky-high ceilings lined with detailed moldings, nice wooden tables and chairs lined up in typical brasserie fashion…. though the place could easily be cold, it is rescued by warm yellow walls and ceilings, and the occasional oversized triangle palm makes you feel like you’ve set foot in an old Havana hotel restaurant. Add to that the bow-tied waiters skimming across the floor with grace and you have yourself a scene straight out of Eloise..!
Price/Quality/Service: Not much to add here – typical Geneva prices (count 40chf for your steak dinner and 25-30chf for a pasta dish), decent quality food, and the service is quite good. (Though they did take awhile to take our dessert order… tsk tsk tsk!)
In sum: See a concert, go to the Café Lyrique, and enjoy the feeling of being in an old movie. A genuinely lyrical experience!