Boiled crayfish at Plaquemine Lock in Islington, London.

Plaquemine Lock: Review

Words & Photography: Chris Pople

There are many things that are unusual about Plaquemine Lock. Firstly and most obviously, they’re serving a style of cuisine thus far rare (or at least rarely successful) in London – Cajun or Creole, from New Orleans. Secondly, they’re doing so in pub in a pretty part of Islington, and I don’t mean a converted pub; it’s still very much a pub – you order at the bar, and they bring food to your table (which – hooray! – you can reserve).

And thirdly, the whole operation is the brainchild of a man, Jacob Kenedy, not known for his Louisiana roots and whose previous projects, Bocca di Lupo, Gelupo and the short-lived Vico, were solidly Italian.

Exterior of Plaquemine Lock in Islington, London.

And yet, despite all these things, or most likely because of them, Plaquemine Lock is a mixed-up, topsy-turvy triumph. It doesn’t seem at all odd, once the initial discombobulation wears off, to be ordering plates of oysters and fried chicken in what used to be the Prince of Wales overlooking the Islington canal. Or to be listening to a delta blues soundtrack while sipping a nice cold glass of Baja California fizz. It works because it’s all presented with the same eager confidence that made Bocca di Lupo such a riotous success, and with the same care and attention to detail.

Cajun and Creole food at Plaquemine Lock in London.

Globe artichoke, the heart breadcrumbed and deep-fried, and the petals arranged around a pot of cumin-spiked dressing, was a perfect introduction to Plaquemine Lock’s attitude – comforting and rustic, but with a distinct presentational flair. The petals were the best bit, carrying plenty of fresh artichoke and fun to scrape at, and while the heart chunks suffered slightly from mushiness, it all went down very well with that Creole hollandaise.

If £15 for 6 oysters seems like a lot (and it shouldn’t really; it’s pretty much the going rate) do bear in mind that the examples we were served at Plaquemine Lock were amongst the biggest oysters we’d ever seen in our lives. Each the size of a clenched fist, they were nonetheless remarkably lean and clean-tasting, especially when doused in a good amount of the Louisiana Crystal hot sauce.

Oysters at Plaquemine Lock in Islington, London.

Before the main event we were treated to a small sample of the house pork scratchings, pieces of rendered belly fat (sorry, ‘Grattons’), beautifully soft in some parts and delicately crunchy in others, coated in an addictive Cajun spice mix.

But if we were here for anything, it was for this – a big ol’ bowl of freshly boiled crayfish. Expertly timed, covered in a generous amount of house seasoning – Old Bay as a base perhaps, but with extra notes of cinnamon and cumin – they were every bit as good as we hoped they’d be, and we relished every moment cracking open the bright red shells and devouring the bouncy, white flesh within. Alongside them, boiled corn doused in the same lovely spice mix were enthusiastically demolished.

Cajun and Creole food at Plaquemine Lock in Islington, London.

 

From here on, Plaquemine Lock had us sold. The house gumbo was packed full of chicken, sausage and prawns and had a beguiling deep, rich, chocolatey flavour that seemed to grow more intense and complex as it cooled. ‘Dirty rice’ contained more of that fascinating spice alongside crumbs of offal to provided texture and earthiness. And a portion of collard greens came cheekily spiked with what they called ‘vege-bacon’ – smoked morels and MSG. We have no idea if that’s authentic. And we don’t care.

It’s always a pleasure reporting on a great new London restaurant, and Plaquemine Lock certainly falls into that category. What’s a rarer delight is discovering somewhere doing something genuinely new on these shores, turning the spotlight on a cuisine that has been so far overlooked (or at least treated very badly) and presenting it with style. Jacob Kenedy may be better known for Italian food up until now, but it’s clear that his aptitude for Creole cooking matched with his considerable restaurateur skills has landed him another surefire hit. We recommend you get yourself a table while you can; this is going to be huge.

Plaquemine Lock, 139 Graham Street, Islington, N1 8LB. Full details and opening hours.

JOL was invited to review Plaquemine Lock on a complimentary basis. We retain full editorial control.

subscribe!