Is it Cajun or Creole? No need to decide at Plaquemine Lock, Angel

01 Jul 2017

A washboard rasp of Zydeco whispers behind its shimmering okra-green walls. Or maybe it’s just the rustling lime trees that drape the Regent’s Canal over the way. Either way, the chalkboard outside Plaquemine Lock tells me there’s a free oyster with every pint: a half dozen of those and I’ll be blissfully incapable of telling a murky London waterway from the gleaming Mississippi River Delta.

This leafy stretch of the Regent’s Canal is a canny nook for Jacob Kenedy to dig up his colonial Louisiana roots. It turns out that the golden boy of Soho’s Italian dining scene is the great-grandson of one Carrie B. Schwing, daughter of a Louisiana lumber shipper. And it was the very same Southern heiress who opened the original Plaquemine Lock, joining the Plaquemine Bayou and the Mississippi, back in 1909.

No coincidence, then, that Kenedy chose to champion his Luisian culinary heritage in a boozer he’s restored a stone’s throw from City Basin Lock. A steamy bayou it ain’t, what with the drowned shopping trolleys rusting beneath the canal’s oily surface, but we catch Kenedy’s drift.

Outside, it’s a handsomely poshed-up 1930s pub. Inside, a riotous Anglo-Luisian creole smacks you full in the face. Gators, mud bugs and mangroves festoon the walls in murals by Kenedy’s mother – and Carrie B. Schwing’s granddaughter –the artist Haidee Becker. Spit-polished joinery tussles with walls the lemon yellow of a Southern debutante’s ballgown.

A warm welcome we had of it over affable bar chat while ales from a nigh-on all English array washed down our smacking fresh oysters. Next time, mind, I’m going dixie with a Sazerac from the all-Luisian cocktails on offer. There’s a small but mighty wine choice too, mostly French, with Iberia smattered among the whites and the Americas among the reds.

What emerged from the kitchen was a gut-busting glory; a pot-luck supper of Cajun and Creole favourites. Now, what’s Cajun and what’s Creole you ask. How long’ve you got? Depends for a start if your grandmama was a French colonist in Canada – that’s Cajun – or was Louisiana-born to French settlers or African Americans – that’s Creole. In both, cultural heritage, spice and roux are handed down in strong-voiced, deep flavours like you’ve never known.

For us? Pork Boudin Balls, a pound of Boiled Crawfish with Corn and Potatoes, Fried Green Tomatoes surely better than they did at the Whistle Stop Café. Blackened Chicken, Red Beans with Chicken Andouille and Mirliton Slaw, Slow-Roast Beef Debris Po’Boy (an indecent Louisiana proposal in sandwich form). Greed wanted the Gumbo and Amandine too – both Louisiana classics – but decency said no.  And let it be said that the Strawberry and Cream Pie is the taste of the Southern States childhood I had in my dreams.

True to a London boozer, beers are spendy at up to £6.50 a pint. For wine, go four quid a glass or up to £73 a bottle, as you like. A Po’Boy sets you back £7.50 and a heartier plate rarely more than £15, though by all means feast on oysters and crawfish for more.

Back by the canal, gas lamps a-burning above those okra-green walls, I fancy I’m standing by the corner of Lafayette, State of Louisiana. But no point painting this food for the soul with pretty pictures: just go, with a hunger like a gator.

Matthew

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