If my grandmother had been a Louisiana socialite, an actress who co-starred with Boris Karloff and Gary Cooper, a puppeteer who performed at glamorous parties and on cruise ships, as well as a trained plumber who died on her 102nd birthday, I’d open a restaurant in her honor, too.
Plaquemine Lock, a Cajun-Creole restaurant on Regent’s Canal in London, takes its name from a lock that the chef Jacob Kenedy’s great-grandfather built and stands as an homage to his fascinating grandmother, Virginia Campbell, and their Louisiana heritage. The London-born Kenedy first visited his ancestral home at the age of twenty. “I fell head over heels in love with Louisiana,” he says. “For a decade or longer, I had brewing in my mind the feeling that London deserved somewhere that celebrated Louisiana and, of course, my grandmother, who remains much loved and celebrated even in memoriam.”
Virginia Campbell was born into a prominent Louisiana family in 1914. She became a Broadway actress who decamped to Hollywood, where she worked for the directors Cecil B. DeMille and Ernst Lubitsch. She also performed with Marilyn Monroe, about whom she lamented, “she couldn’t act her way out of Grand Central Station.”
According to her obituary in the Hollywood Reporter, Campbell married the writer John Becker and they moved into a sixteenth-century palace in Rome in the 1950s. Together they set up a marionette theater and threw elegant soirées around the performances. Campbell created and conducted the puppets; Becker wrote the scripts. Attendees (and sometimes participants) included Aaron Copland, Alice B. Toklas, Ingrid Bergman, W. H. Auden, and Federico Fellini. After Becker and Campbell divorced, she took her puppets to sea and performed on cruise ships. For reasons known only to her, she also pursued a degree in plumbing and while she didn’t work professionally, her daughter, the artist Haidee Becker, says she was known to fix the toilets of friends and family including that of her chum Gore Vidal at his house on the Amalfi coast.
From the outside, the Plaquemine Lock restaurant looks like a standard-issue British pub, but step inside and you’re greeted by colorful murals of the river steamboat Carrie B. Schwing, named after Kenedy’s great-grandmother, and other scenes of the Louisiana bayou, including a hungry alligator. One of the murals even includes a painting of Campbell and her husband Lenny walking up to the pub. Becker, Kenedy’s mother, painted the murals, making the restaurant a true family affair.
Since you don’t go to a restaurant just for its backstory, rest assured the food is wonderful. Kenedy is also the chef-owner of the beloved Italian restaurant Bocca di Lupo in London, and he says his family members throughout Louisiana have taught and continue to teach him “our ways of making dirty rice, gumbo, deviled eggs, and the like.” He has also been tutored by friends who make up a “who’s who” of the state’s finest chefs, including Steve Armbruster and Donald Link.
Kenedy’s desire to open a Louisiana-themed restaurant became more important after his grandmother died on her birthday, February 17, 2016. He opened the restaurant the following year, and today diners feast on crispy Cajun cracklins and duck boudin balls, an over-the-top Sugar Beignet Bacon Sandwich, and fried green tomatoes. Becker thinks her mother would have been partial to the shrimp and grits, gumbo, cornbread, and pecan pie.
Kenedy says he thinks that Campbell, or “Ginny” as she was known, would have been overjoyed with “her” pub. He’s sure she would have come in every day to drink wine, eat chocolate, and play Posso, her favorite card game. Cards are available for sale and the rules for Posso hang on the wall, but Kenedy says his grandmother made up her own rules as she went along. Campbell lived her long, happy life the same way—by making up the rules as she went along and enjoying it all with family, friends, and great food.