Nicolas Villion Photographe

Japanese-born chef Takao Takano is the toast of Lyon, not only for the excellent new eponymous restaurant he opened in May, but because his commitment to his adopted hometown is deeply reassuring to Lyonnais gourmets. They were disappointed when Nicolas Le Bec, the city’s rising star, bolted off to Shanghai after the failure of his huge brasserie, Rue Le Bec, in the developing Confluence quarter of the city. Takano worked with Le Bec for eight years, at the dining room of the Cour des Loges Hotel and then at Restaurant Nicolas Le Bec, which won two Michelin stars.

Now Le Bec’s loyal lieutenant has stepped into the spotlight on his own, and his beautifully conceived and executed contemporary French cooking has immediately made his restaurant one of the toughest reservations in town. The whole look of Takano’s light, airy restaurant in a quiet residential neighbourhood tips the chef’s identity, too, with a Zen like décor which includes wall sculptures of recycled wood and a cedar floor with a black slate border. White Corian-topped tables and chairs lined in ash-gray worsted add to the stark graphic look of the space, which is intended as a carefully studied backdrop to Takano’s prix-fixe menus.

Several months after lunch here in May, I still remember every detail of one of the most discreetly creative and impressively cooked meals I’ve had for a long time. It began with a delicate mousse of smoked eel with petals of dried red beet – a beautifully balanced miniature of tastes and textures, followed by a lobe of pan-sautéed duck foie with a crimson sauce of fresh raspberry coulis that proved a perfect foil for the liver’s richness. An unctuous Canaroli rice risotto garnished with green asparagus, lardo di Colonnata (salt-cured Italian fatback) and two-year old Parmesan was a masterful study in umami richness, and then an angelic fish course of steamed cod with new peas and baby clams in a foam of smoked milk showed off Takano’s technical prowess. Roasted shank of lamb with artichoke purée was dressed with a silky sauce of cooking juices, and the finale to this outstanding meal was a stunning dark chocolate tart with a shortbread crust.

Service throughout was cordial and attentive, and I left the table more than persuaded that this very talented chef has not only stepped into his master’s shoes, but ‘one upped’ him a bit in the process.

Takao Takano, 33 Rue Malesherbes, 69006 Lyon. Tel: +33 4 82 31 43 39. Closed Sunday and Monday. Prix-fixe menus: €28 (lunch), €45 and €75.

Alexander Lobrano’s book Hungry for Paris is published by Random House. Find Hungry for Paris and more in our bookstore.

Originally published in the February-March 2014 issue of France Today

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