Lilou: A trip to France in downtown Knoxville

Jessica King, who owns Lilou with husband and business partner Aaron Thompson. She’s focused on the cocktail program.

Bon appetit! Welcome to downtown Knoxville’s first upscale full-on French restaurant.

Lilou, located at 428 S. Gay Street, will open to the general public on Jan. 4. It already is taking reservations. After attending a “friends and family” soft opening over the weekend, my husband, Alan, and I are making ours!

Aaron Thompson, right, co-owner of Lilou, poses with Alan Carmichael last Friday.

Prepare to be blown away the minute you step into the room. With wall-to-wall art including intermittent male and female nudes, you truly feel as if you are not in Knoxville anymore. “To get any more French, you’d have to go to France,” Alan remarked.

Lilou, located in the space formerly occupied by Sapphire, is owned by Aaron Thompson and Jessica King, who also opened Osteria Stella and Brother Wolf in the Old City in 2021, carving out their position in Knoxville’s more crowded Italian eatery space.

Lilou, which means “lily” in French, will be located on the ground floor of the soon-to-be-open boutique Hotel Cleo, to which it will provide room service.

The menu is French, to be sure, which means it has a number of offerings I never will eat! Think sweetbreads, frog legs, and foie gras, for example. But it also has beef, seafood and chicken offerings. With a temperature controlled wine cellar and bread and pastry kitchen in the basement, I’d put the food experience among Knoxville’s top tier. (So is the price of your total check, of course, but you probably won’t eat there every day!)

Jessica King collected most of the art that lines all the walls. Much came from estate sales.

A portion of the lovely dining room.

A very French-looking chandelier.

Same for the lampshades.

The bar seats about 16. It is available during all open hours and serves the full menu. The dining room seats about 100.

Bar nudes.

Vintage china.

I ordered octopus as a starter. Loved it — and the little potato pillows on which they were served.

Alan had escargot. He was a little surprised that the snails weren’t served in their shells, as they were when he had them in France.

My favorite picture was this little girl holding a cat.

The bread service was awesome! Baked in-house. Those are two kinds of butter: herb butter and paprika butter. Both were delish.

Service Director Brad Poyner knowledgeably discussed our wine options with us. He came to Lilou from Osteria Stella.

All the wine is French, of course. They eventually expect to have 2,000 different bottles.

Woman in pink.

My main course: monkfish, fennel and Armoricaine sauce. Armoricaine sauce contains chopped onions, tomatoes, white wine, brandy, salt, cayenne pepper, butter, and fish stock. The fish was perfectly cooked and delicious.

Alan had slow-cooked bisque-glazed lobster with caviar. He enjoyed it, but liked my monkfish better! I agreed.

We were seated at table 12 and loved it. It’s a booth directly across from the kitchen. It was fun being in on all the action!

Our view of the kitchen bustle!

Our excellent server, Jake Moore, left, and Chef Benjamin Tilatti, who moved here from France to help Thompson and King get Lilou up and running.

For dessert, we split this unbelievably delicious tarte tatin with creme fraiche. It was almost a sin.

Here’s another interesting-looking booth. With a not-too-fierce-looking guard.

A lovely waiting area. Looks like they are still working on the window treatment.

Had to check out the restrooms. A headless angel pointed the way.

Found them!

They were lovely.

Eventually, it came time to pay the piper! The blow was softened by the most delicious macarons I have ever had! (And a free postcard featuring one of the paintings!)

See you there!











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13 Responses to Lilou: A trip to France in downtown Knoxville

  1. Gay Lyons, on December 27th, 2023 at 2:25 pm said:

    Can’t wait to try it!

  2. Cynthia Moxley, on December 27th, 2023 at 2:32 pm said:

    Gay: I know you would love it!

  3. Tami, on December 27th, 2023 at 2:53 pm said:

    That is going to be such a lovely addition to our downtown dining options! Thank you for giving us a wonderful overview-we look forward to dining there!

  4. Anthony, on December 27th, 2023 at 3:19 pm said:

    This looks amazing! Tyler and I have reservations for when we return from NYC.

  5. Monique Anderson, on December 27th, 2023 at 6:27 pm said:

    Oh my gosh! What fun! You are lucky ducks.

  6. Cynthia Moxley, on December 27th, 2023 at 9:12 pm said:

    Tami and Anthony: Please post here when you get a chance to visit! Would love to know what you think.

    Monique: We are lucky. You and Bruce and Alan and I should go there together soon!

  7. Aaron Thompson, on December 27th, 2023 at 10:28 pm said:

    Cynthia, thank you for being our guineas! Soft Launches can be tenuous, but having allies like you all there makes it all the more sweet. We will continue to push! We look forward to growing with Knoxville and to help grow Knoxville.

  8. Cynthia Moxley, on December 27th, 2023 at 10:38 pm said:

    Aaron: Congrats! As I told you on Friday, we truly think you have a big success on your hands! It was just fabulous! Will see you soon! Glad you are in our neighborhood!

  9. Kathryn Hutchins, on December 28th, 2023 at 3:14 am said:

    This sounds fab! This slyly humorous review makes it even more intriguing.

  10. Cynthia Moxley, on December 28th, 2023 at 9:41 am said:

    Kathryn: Thanks! Hope you get a chance to try it out!

  11. Pam Rhoades, on December 28th, 2023 at 9:51 am said:

    Got our resys for Jan. 5! Thanks for showing us around with this post, Cynthia!
    P.S. Did you get a martini? 🙂

  12. Cynthia Moxley, on December 28th, 2023 at 10:09 am said:

    Hey, Pam! Great! Let me know what you all think!

    Regarding the martini, no. The thing about the “friends and family” nights is that they aren’t totally ready for prime time. They didn’t have any olive brine — and you know I like my martinis dirty! They should have it by Jan. 5 when you go. On the plus side, they did have my vodka, Grey Goose. As you know, it is French!

    They also had run out of French onion soup, which I really wanted to try. Let me know if you order that and how it is. I intend to get it next time. Cheers, friend!

  13. Garrol Francis Morris, on February 1st, 2024 at 12:32 am said:

    I like working here the people are friendly workers I just started two weeks ago the owners are friendly I’m a dishwasher garrol

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