I’d been to Lille once before… it could be 10 years ago, it could be 20. Either way, I didn’t remember much about it and I didn’t have particularly high expectations. The only reason I was going to Lille at all was because northern France was the easiest place for my entire family – coming from England, Belgium and the Netherlands respectively – to get to without having to quarantine in the midst of the second year of the pandemic. We hadn’t seen each other in 18 months – the location was pretty much irrelevant. So while I rushed to make restaurant reservations for the third time (we’d already planned and then nixed two other destinations), I did not have high hopes for Lille. Luckily for me, I’d got it all wrong.
We were only there for three days, so this guide is not only incomplete – it’s really just a starting point. There’s much more to explore, and I have no doubt a lot of it is very good. These were just a few of the places we were lucky enough to stumble across (either via the internet beforehand or literally on the streets at the time) and so are in no way meant to represent a definitive list. I hope that my next visit to Lille is in less than a decade, and that I’ll be able to add to this article in the not-too-distant future. But for now, here goes…
What and where to eat in Lille
Splash out on Michelin-starred dining at Le Cerisier
Our big, blow-out meal of the trip was at Le Cerisier, an elegant restaurant with one Michelin star to the north of the city centre. At dinner, choose one of their fixed menus for creative, modern takes on classic dishes. For me, the stand-out dish was the lobster with Le Cerisier’s signature preparation of cherries in several different ways. But I also loved the beef main course with what can only be described as an exploding potato bomb. Don’t forget to browse the cheese cart that lives in its own special room with all the bottles of wine (surely foodie heaven?). If you’re with a large group, they also have a lovely private dining room that exudes the same atmosphere as the rest of the restaurant but offers a bit more privacy for your family reunion (or birthday, anniversary, etc.). Plus, we were impressed at how well the chefs handled my niece’s request for a vegetarian menu. An excellent choice for a special occasion.
For more information, visit Le Cerisier’s website.
Wake up to brunch at Reveille
While you’re undoubtedly going to want to indulge in croissants and coffee when in France, after a couple of days you might be looking for something more substantial. That’s where Reveille comes in, with its fresh, bright interior and menu of quiches, eggs with smoked salmon, poké bowls and other brunch classics. Their freshly squeezed juices are also excellent. Slightly off the main squares, you’ll find Reveille at Place Rihour, very central to the maze of shopping streets.
For more information, visit @reveillelille on Instagram.
Share “Le Welsh” at a Lillois brasserie
We had never heard of the mysterious “Welsh” until we arrived in Lille, and yet it seemed that every local restaurant was serving them. It takes its name from the Welsh rarebit, but the Lillois have made it very much their own: think cast-iron pan filled with bubbling, melted cheddar. There may be a slice of bread or ham buried somewhere beneath, but frankly any other ingredients pale into insignificance when faced with the veritable lake of cheese. I would not recommend ordering one of these by yourself – better to share with a friend (or five) alongside some lighter dishes. Even French fries feel light in comparison, so get yourself some of those, too. We ate our Welsh at La Chicorée, which seemed to be a very popular spot just around the corner from Reveille. But plenty of brasseries in the city sell them, and they look to be very similar.
Local blog Lille Addict has a guide to the 10 best places to eat Le Welsh.
Enjoy traditional French hospitality at La Fleur de Lille
My dad claims that what France does very well is the kind of mid-priced, family-run, unfussy restaurant you’ll find in any neighbourhood. And I think he’s right. He certainly was in the case of La Fleur de Lille, where we ate on our second night before popping down the road to a café to watch Belgium in the quarter-finals of the Euros. It was that kind of place. The menu was simple and relatively classic, with a few twists. La Fleur de Lille’s foie gras was excellent, punctuated by flecks of pink peppercorns and sea salt. Their fresh tuna was deliciously pink in the middle, served with minty salsa verde, black rice and a simple tomato and avocado salad. Uncomplicated yet tasty, with charming service.
For more information, visit La Fleur de Lille’s website.
Take a picnic to the park from Sandwich Corner
Of course, you will not find Sandwich Corner on the map. But if you head to the intersection of Rue Basse and Rue Lepelletier, you’ll see what I mean. For those seeking a simple baguette jambon-fromage, you’ve got PAUL – a well-known chain of bakeries – on one side of the road. If a stuffed-to-bursting falafel pita is more your bag, cross the road and order from Bar Parallèle. Alternatively, two doors down, you’ll find American-style pulled-pork burgers and brisket sandwiches at Lazy Suzy. We were a party of eight, so we split forces and tried them all. Armed with your takeaway paper bags, walk due east towards the Citadel, where you’ll find plenty of grassy spots and park benches to feast on your improvised picnic if the weather cooperates.
Drink a local craft brew at Beer Square
Although there’s no actual square in Lille called Place de Bière, there is a large sign in the square surrounding Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille Cathedral that reads “Beer Square”. Further Googling reveals that this is (unsurprisingly) a bar, but the name could equally apply to the whole place – surrounded as it is by hipster cafés and bars selling local craft beers. Our bière blanche actually came from one called Aux Deux Cocottes, but there are plenty to choose from – including, of course, the eponymous Beer Square. With the cathedral in the background, it’s a lovely spot to indulge in some people-watching, especially at dusk. Although be warned: if you’re over the age of 30, you’re going to feel old.