There were three things I was excited for on my trip to Lille.
First, was seeing my sister. (She has to be number one, otherwise I’ll get a grumpy whatsapp message from her later.)
And third, the food. Because to me, France means cheese, wine, and pain au chocolat. It means perfectly rare steak, pretty macarons, and light-as-a-feather crepes. It means delicious, decadent, fancy food.
I thought I knew what to expect, but Lille surprised me.
The city is in northern France (known as French Flanders), and right near the border of Belgium. You can actually get a train to Brussels from Lille in under twenty minutes. Which explains how, alongside the classic French dishes we all know and love, there’s a whole section of their cuisine which is based on their Flemish roots and Belgian neighbours.
Waffles, for example, are really popular in Lille. Méert apparently do some amazing ones, stuffed with caramel, but we never got round to trying them. We did, however, manage to find a salad topped with waffles AND cheese. So I think that makes up for it…
Here’s a list of what to eat in Lille, where we ate it, and how much it cost. You’re welcome.
PAIN AU CHOCOLAT
We were in a bit of a hurry on our first day, as we wanted to make the most of the near-empty streets while we could. So we opted for a classic pain au chocolate and coffee combo at Paul’s bakery.
You may have seen Paul’s in cities across the world (there’s one on Piccadilly in London), but the brand originally started in Lille, back in the 1840s, so we thought that was a good place to start!
The coffee was horrendous (I actually didn’t have a single good coffee the whole time we were in Lille…), but the pastries were warm from the oven, perfectly flakey on the outside, and softly gooey and chocolatey on the inside. Pain perfection.
COST: €8 for two coffees and two pastries.
Tartine is the fancy French way of saying bread and spread. I’d told Ches that I was desperate to have a warm baguette slathered in butter and jam, and even though this wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind: it was still absolutely yum.
I had the Tartine meal deal, which included a basket of fresh bread, a selection of spreads, and a drink (I had coffee, and yes, it was horrible). The spreads included homemade hazelnut butter, homemade apricot jam, and homemade dark chocolate spread (like Nutella but richer, and without the nuts!). The hazelnut spread was amazing, and if it hadn’t costed €6 a jar I probably would have bought one to take home!
Yep: this place is pricey. We’d planned for a big breakfast, so we could have a late lunch/early dinner before getting the train, so it was fine – but it’s definitely something to watch out for if you’re on a budget!
WHERE: Café Olive
COST: Around €32 for two breakfasts, two coffees, and a juice.
Raclette is one of my favourite things in the whole world. It’s a wheel of cheese that’s cut in half, then the edge is grilled under a special fancy grill (we had one in our hotel room!). Then you scrape off the gooey melted cheese over fried potatoes, bread, chips… whatever takes your fancy.
The cheese itself is mild and creamy, and goes all bubbly and perfect when it’s melted. We had it served “mountain style” over baked potatoes, with a side of salad, and goat’s cheese on toast. It was a bit of a bizarre combination, but hey, I’m never going to complain about more cheese!
The restaurant was cute, traditional, tucked away down a back street, and filled with locals stuffing their faces with fondue and raclette. My favourite kind of restauarant.
WHERE: Restaurant Le Dahu
COST: €20 for two main meals, and two bottles of water.
Carbonnade basically means stew. This particular one is a regional specialty, made with chunks of tender beef, in a dark beer and thyme gravy, flavoured with mustard and brown sugar. It’s tangy and salty, with a little sweet aftertaste, and arrives at the table sprinkled with croutons, with a side of fries.
I LOVED it. I actually think it was my favourite meal of the whole trip (and considering there was no cheese involved, that’s saying a lot!). The meat was beautifully tender, the gravy was delicious, and the fries were hot and crispy. Absolute perfection.
COST: €35 for two main meals (see below for the second dish), and two alcoholic drinks
SALAD WITH WAFFLES AND GOAT’S CHEESE
Ches is a vegetarian, so while I had the stew, she went for this mega salad. Topped with mini waffles, topped with goat’s cheese, it’s probably the most ridiculous and amazing salad I’ve ever seen.
The waffles were hot and perfectly crisp, the cheese was caramelised on the outside and softly gooey on the inside, and the salad itself was fresh and beautifully dressed with a home-made vinaigrette.
COST: €35 for two main meals, and two alcoholic drinks
PRO TIP 1: Local bistros in Lille are known as estaminets. You’ll find a whole street of them on Rue de Gand, so if you’re looking for somewhere good for dinner, I’d say get there earlyish and just have a wander. Most of them serve variations of the same Flemish dishes, so you’re sure to find somewhere with a table free!
PRO TIP 2: We were super lucky to get a last-minute table for Sunday lunch at Estaminet Vieux La Vieille, which is considered pretty much the best estaminet in town. It was incredibly busy, and we saw so many people turned away, so if you’re heading to Lille and want to eat here specifically: BOOK A TABLE.
Le Welsh has (shockingly) nothing to do with Wales. It’s actually Lille’s number one local specialty: brown bread, soaked in beer, topped with slices of pink ham, drenched in about a pint of gooey melted cheese, flavoured with mustard, then baked until golden and bubbly.
Served with a giant side plate of fries and salad, it’s definitely the most decadent thing I ate in Lille. And it’s absolutely delicious!
You can find it made with a variety of different cheeses, including cheddar, but the regional favourite is Maroilles cheese. It’s mild, creamy, and melts beautifully.
If you try just one thing in Lille, make it a Welsh.
WHERE: Estaminet La Vieille France (but they serve this pretty much all over the city!)
COST: between €13-16 depending on the restaurant – mine was €15
I’d written merveilleux down as “Essential to Try in Lille”. They’re mountains of meringue and flavoured whipped cream, which are then rolled in grated chocolate, or other toppings.
We watched the ladies making them in the shop, then bought a pack of six. The idea was to have one each as dessert, and then I was going to take the rest back to Gary as a present… (Spoiler: he didn’t get his present.)
The box of six included flavours like coffee, chocolate, white chocolate, cherry, and nutty praline (my fave!). All of them were light, fluffy, and utterly delicious.
WHERE: Le Merveilleux de Fred (Fun fact: I’ve just discovered there’s a branch of this shop on Old Brompton Road in London!)
COST: €5 for a box of 6
MORE CITY GUIDES:
*DISCLAIMER: Our trip to Lille was sponsored by the Post Office, and we planned our own itinerary.