People tend to generalize about Southern cooking from the US, painting a picture of downhome comfort food and pit barbecue. In reality, it is an impossibly broad church of dishes, recipes and influences.
The Southern states, from Texas to Florida and the Carolinas, have been populated by a number of different communities over the last 300 years and has left the cooking habits and techniques of African, Native American, Creole, West Indian, French, German inhabitants, to name a few.
Hushpuppies, grits, succotash, collard greens, jambalaya, red-eye gravy, pinto beans, river fish, all classics of the area. But if you were going to plonk a Southern-style restaurant right in the middle of Soho, which direction to go?
With Southern-style barbecue widely available in all parts of London, the launch of a Southern-influenced food venue in London’s most densely-restaurant-populated area, any food obsessive has to be really intrigued as to what would turn up.
So, in flies Ma’Plucker and lands, presumably for pun-lovers, in Beak Street (if you’re ever feeling peckish … ).
Any Soho concern has to be keenly aware of servicing the needs of time-poor office workers and late-night revellers and present itself in that nicely shaped brand-concept way that restaurants round Soho tend to do, seemingly aware of the fact their customers are going to be brand-savvy, business-literate, media-immersed types given the industries based here.
Ma’Plucker has focused on Southern and chicken and created an easy-to-understand options menu to make it straightforward to mix and match your choice of chicken with the way it is served. The result is a mouthwatering selection of buttermilk fried chicken, pulled chicken and rotisserie chicken served with waffles or on a bun, with mash, pickles or collard greens on the side.
They are also touting a chicken-fried (beef) steak that HotJoint dutifully road-tested and can report it is a real find, served with a creamy country gravy and a separate side of moreish mash. A fried chicken and halloumi burger was the size of a small football with a brick of the Greek cheese – Southern cuisine also being characterized by its generosity – and an afternoon sleep on the porch in the ole rockin’ chair was in order.
Sylvia, the cartoon chicken that fronts the whole affair, has come up with an alternative afternoon tea with iced tea and sliders, and they serve margeritas and beer deep into the evening.
The shop has some endearing touches, with bare untreated boards of wood on the walls and enamel plates. The staff are smiley and attentive and it’s very much a casual affair, with lunchtimers hanging around waiting for takeaways, and the teething issues of a brand new restaurant being sorted out in real time.
Soho doesn’t really do roomy venues, so be prepared to nudge elbows with your neighbour, or even rearrange the furniture to make room for yourself. Which makes HotJoint think this might be a stepping stone to a grander presentation, or an energetic rollout.
Either way, having knocked back the chicken fried steak and half a halloumi burger and half a plate of fried buttermilk chicken and a side of mash and two pots of chips, no more could be consumed. So now we need to go back for those biscuits and gravy. Not many – if any – joints in London are serving southern biscuits and gravy, so this is an opportunity only a fool would pass up.