Challenging Lyon's Culinary Scene

Passion and expertise are the recipe for the success of Le Soleil Levant, one of the first Japanese restaurants that opened in Lyon.

By Fédération Française des Associations de Commerçants

Rooftops of old houses in Lyon, France (2009-09-14) by Guy VanderelstGetty Images

In 1935, culinary critic Curnonsky awarded Lyon the title of "World Capital of Gastronomy". “Bouchons" restaurants are part of the symbols of the city, but traditional cuisine now lives alongside new trends, such as Japanese cuisine. Le Soleil Levant was one of the first representatives.

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The beginnings 

Born in Cambodia, Kear Kun Lo arrived in France in 1983, where he passed an electronic degree with honors. In 1989, he left Paris for Lyon and started working in his father-in-law's Chinese restaurant: "my teacher at the time told me that you can do anything with electronics, even apples! », he jokes. 

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In 1995, he created the Soleil Levant in the Garibaldi Part-Dieu district with a Japanese friend he met in Paris. At the time, starting a business was not easy, and the neighbourhood was not very welcoming. 

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A neighbourhood in mutation

Crossing the sixth, third and seventh districts, rue Garibaldi was considered the "highway to Lyon and the city center". But at the initiative of previous Mayor Gérard Collomb, who was inspired by the Défense in Paris, the district has been greatly modernised.

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Le Soleil Levant is located in a busy area in front of the Part-Dieu shopping centre and close to the administrative district. In 25 years, the restaurant has seen the neighbourhood transform and a whole generation grow up. But customers have remained loyal to it: in the meantime, the restaurant has made its reputation in Lyon. 

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The right products  

The raw material is very important for Japanese cuisine, and the products must be impeccable. "The first year, we were running around looking for the cheapest possible supplies”. Since then, the restaurant has been buying supplies from Les Halles Paul Bocuse. Kear Kun is proud to have known several generations of its shopkeepers. 

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To avoid direct competition on the Lyon market, the Soleil Levant likes to offer unique dishes. Above all, nothing is prepared in advance, and the fish is delivered daily. 

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Among the most popular recipes: soba, Japanese pasta made with buckwheat flour, tsukune, delicious chicken balls or tonkatsu, a breaded pork tenderloin. For meat too, the choice of products is essential.

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The transmission 

At Soleil Levant, Kear Kun Lo started as a waiter. It was his partner who trained him in Japanese cuisine. Today, he often takes apprentices whom he trains for two or three months until they can become independent. Always following the same formula: "first, you have to teach them the basics, and only then they can add their own innovation". 

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"It's a job that anyone can do, there's no secret" ... except, perhaps, the soy sauce. Although Kear Kun Lo wants to pass on his knowledge, he would never give away his homemade sauce recipe. "For 25 years, I've been the only one to prepare it": it's his trademark, which he intends to keep secret even after he sells the restaurant. 

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The art of service  

The other pride of the Soleil Levant is the high standard of service: "to do your job well, you must always put yourself in the customer's shoes". 

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