Make an occasion of something Cajun
Perched on the edge of the canal, bar and restaurant inspired by owner's grandmother who grew up in Louisiana is a complete one-off
09 November, 2018 — By Tom Moggach
Plaquemine Lock – home to ‘uncomplicated Cajun and Creole cooking
WHIZZING past on my bike, Plaquemine Lock looks like just another posh gastropub in leafy Islington. Step inside, however, and it’s a whole other story. This bar and restaurant, perched on the edge of the canal, is a complete one-off – a unique, unusual and surprising place to eat out.
The inspiration for this daring venture lies in the remarkable life of a woman called Virginia Campbell, who died last year aged 102. She was grandmother of the owner, chef Jacob Kenedy, who’s best known for the ace Italian restaurant Bocca di Lupo in Soho.
Campbell grew up in Louisiana, the scion of a grand family. She was a film star in Hollywood before moving to Rome, where she threw epic parties in her grand palazzo – which inspired a scene in Fellini’s film La Dolce Vita – and established a marionette theatre.
For this restaurant, Kenedy reaches back to her early life by the Mississippi river. “The little kitchen churns out uncomplicated Cajun and Creole cooking, just like great grandma probably had someone else make for her,” says the restaurant website.
Expect pork crackling, po’boy sandwiches, boiled shrimp, grits and pecan pie. This is food not for the faint-hearted; or clean-eaters counting the calories.
The décor of the pub is discombobulating, with canary yellow walls daubed with murals of sprawling crocodiles and steam boats chugging upstream.
If you crave a quiet pint, you may well be disappointed. Near the bar, the wooden tables and chairs have been replaced by matching yellow stools.
Look more closely and the art is a feast in itself. The murals are by the chef’s mother, a painter. Others from New Orleans folk artist Dr Bob Art.
You’ll find ancient parish maps from Louisiana, a painting of “Lobster debris” by food writer Elisabeth Luard, and plenty more to grab the eye.
You order food and drink at the bar. There’s no waiting staff. Perhaps start with a cocktail. The Creole Bloody Mary is fantastic: spicy, strong and vegetal, with okra and string beans dunked in as a gutsy garnish.
The epic list of craft beers stars around 30 brews by the bottle and a couple of tip-top local ales from the cask.
We started with a snack of fried green tomatoes – crisp and moreish. Grilled oysters were skilfully done, with a crunch of breadcrumbs, dab of spinach and light touch of cream.
Gumbo, the famous stew, is thickened with a dark roux and served by the cup. We dug spoons under plump shrimp to fish out okra and tender nuggets of chicken.
A homemade pork and rice sausage hit the spot; the coconut cream pie is as fun and fluffy as it sounds.
In clumsy hands, these dishes would be a gimmicky disappointment. But the kitchen crew here have pedigree and display great technical skill.
If this style of food appeals, you won’t better elsewhere in London. We left smiling, clutching bottles of their Crystal Hot Sauce.
139 Graham St, N1
020 7688 1488