Culina Hortus: gastronomic vegetarian restaurant launches in Lyon
By Caroline Conner
The concept here is not just about being vegetarian, but brings with it a broader commitment to sustainability and seasonality. DISCLAIMER: I am not a vegetarian, and neither is the chef!
Culina Hortus, The Kitchen Garden
Culina Hortus (“kitchen garden” in Latin) opened on October 3rd 2018, and is a vegetarian restaurant from the team behind the extremely popular Victoire et Thomas.
Like its sister restaurant just across the street on Rue de l’Arbre Sec (Lyon 1), Culina Hortus shows off an eye for design. Transformed from the remains of a long running nightclub, the restaurant is a testament to simplicity and earth tones, showing off the original, traditional wooden beamed ceiling and rough stone walls.
The lighting was particularly well done, and the effect is cozy but modern. The coolest design elements are the low walls made of rammed earth or pisé, which is essentially a cross section of earth that is then pressed, so you can see all the striations and different layers.
The beautiful tableware is from celebrated Jars Cèramistes in the Ardèche, and the chairs are comfortable.
Veggie Fine Dining in Lyon
For the moment the set lunch at Culina Hortus changes weekly and costs 22€ for two courses, or 26€ for three. Dinner consists of two menu options that change monthly, the first is three courses for 32€, the other six courses for 52€.
I can say with complete confidence that this is a really good deal and you should eat here while it still costs this little. These guys are gunning for a star and I wouldn’t be surprised if they get one and deservedly drive up their prices.
The food is excellent and clearly requires a lot of work to prepare. Made using local and seasonal ingredients (they pride themselves on having sourced French quinoa from Anjou), each dish was carefully considered and lovingly executed by young chef Adrien Zedda.
I started with organic bread from the local St Vincent Boulangerie served with buckwheat flavored butter from Brittany. I am not sure how you flavor butter with buckwheat but it was delicious and I couldn’t get enough of it.
This place is definitely not only for vegetarians
The starter was a cannelloni stuffed with Jerusalem artichoke purée and hazelnuts, topped with sea beans and surrounded by a deliciously savory seaweed sauce. The textures were complementary, with the crunch of the fresh hazelnut hidden in the smooth purée, the springy seabeans, and then the silky sauce.
The main course was two perfectly cooked soft eggs, sous vide, with crispy polenta, mushroom purée and again, a deeply savory sauce. This was topped with crunchy buckwheat seeds that were a nice textural contrast. I loved this dish, it was comforting and yummy and very well executed.
It was clear to me by this stage in the meal that the chef understands umami, there was an intense depth of flavor across the board and neither dish lacked richness or complexity. Dessert was a chocolate mousse with parsley ice cream.
The mousse was rich and delicious, made from good quality Ecuadorian chocolate. The parsley ice cream made me roll my eyes but it was well executed and the girl next to me loved it.
Biodynamic Wines with vegetarian food
I was very pleased with their wines, and felt like their small list was classy and contained. I don’t need a restaurant to have 200 bottles, keep it at 20 and make thoughtful choices! The goal of this list was to work exclusively with biodynamic producers making traditional wines.
Biodynamic is organic plus some, relying on the phases of the moon to dictate particular farming and winemaking practices. Sometimes when you veer into ‘natural wine’ territory things get funky, but the wines I tasted were excellent examples of their appellation.
It was not Burgundy focused, with plenty of wines from the Loire and the Languedoc, not surprising considering their requirement of biodynamic farmed wines. Luckily when you get away from Burgundy you can get some really good value, with a glass costing between 7€ and 9€ and bottles kept within a reasonable range.
This was a wonderful dining experience and I look forward to going frequently. This place is definitely not only for vegetarians, but may all Lyonnais vegetarians rejoice at its arrival!