Louie opened in August 2020 on the site of the original London Atelier Robuchon in Covent Garden. It serves Creole food, a Louisiana cuisine that fuses French, Spanish, West African and Native American influences. These cultures were the main inhabitants of the area prior to the sale of Louisiana by Napoleon to the USA in 1803, perhaps the biggest real estate bargain in history. Creoles were originally the descendants of the French and Spanish ruling class settlers. It is regarded as a somewhat refined cuisine than Cajun, the other and somewhat spicier, down to earth cuisine of New Orleans. Creole cooking includes classic dishes such as jamabalaya and gumbo, as does Cajun, but Creole sauces are based on a butter and flour roux, whereas the Cajun equivalent uses oil or lard and flour.
The executive chef at Louie is Slade Rushing, formerly executive chef of Brennan’s in New Orleans for five years, having previously run his own restaurant MiLa, also in New Orleans. For those unfamiliar with the city, Brennan’s is a culinary institution in New Orleans, dating back to 1946 and where the breakfast dish “Bananas Foster” was popularised (strictly speaking this dish originated at Owen Brennan’s previous restaurant Vieux Carré). I haven’t dined there since the 1990s, but Mr Rushing successfully relaunched the sprawling 350 seat Brennan’s site in 2014 after the historic establishment had closed and changed hands.
Back in London, the dining room is up a flight of stairs from the entrance and is lavishly decorated, with a large bar on the floor above. The menu was a la carte, with a few obviously creole dishes such as gumbo, but also with quite a few dishes with little obvious Creole heritage, such as steak tartare and New York strip steak with sauce bordelaise. Starters were £11-£19, mains £22-£45, with vegetable side dishes £6-£8.
The wine list had 252 labels and ranged in price from £30 to £1,750, with a median price of £137 and an average markup to retail price of a pretty much indefensible 3.5 times; even for Covent Garden this is excessive. Sample references were Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie Garance Luneau 2019 at £45 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £17, Côtes du Luberon Les Griottes Château Val Joanis 2017 at £60 compared to its retail price of £18, and Barbera d’Alba Roagna 2014 at £90 for a wine that will set you back £30 in the high street. For those with the means there was Château Trotanoy Pomerol 1996 at £550 compared to its retail price of £199, and Barolo Granbussia Poderi Aldo Conterno 2009 at £950 for a wine whose current market value is £554. I could only spot one relative bargain, the “basic” Coche Dury Bourgogne 2016 at £230, slightly below its current retail price of £245. Mineral water was £6 a bottle. The Spanish sommelier was excellent; he had previously worked at 67 Pall Mall and was very knowledgeable.
Beef tartare had nice quality beef, but badly lacked seasoning, and we ended up asking for salt and mustard on the side, which is not ideal (11/20). Fried soft shell crab was pleasant enough, but the batter was a touch greasy. This came with corn maque choux, a Louisiana dish of onions, peppers, garlic tomatoes and corn, usually with a little cream. I have had this in New Orleans but this version didn’t leave much impression on me, while a truffle puree was not something that you would see in Louisiana (11/20).
Gumbo is a classic Creole and cajun dish, a rich stew classically based on a roux, though it can also be thickened with “filé” (powdered sassafras leaves), usually slow cooked for a few hours. This version had monkfish, oysters, tiger prawns, okra, crab rice and andouille sausage had nice ingredients but badly needed more seasoning, which classically is provided by Cajun seasoning, which has cayenne pepper and paprika amongst its components (11/20).
The best dish by far was slow-cooked pork belly with langoustines. The Iberico pork cheeks were very tender, served with collard greens, kohlrabi all resting in a “pot liquor”, which is the liquid left behind after coking collard greens. The langoustines were sweet and lightly cooked, and went well with the rich flavour of the pork cheeks, the green vegetables providing some much-needed contrast to the richness of the meat (14/20).
For dessert, tarte tatin was a peculiar dish to see on a menu in July, given that apples are at their best in the autumn and winter. The pastry was soggy and the apples lacked enough sharpness. I actually left quite a bit of the tarte tatin, and that is not something that I would normally ever contemplate (9/20). Much better was pecan pie, with plenty of nutty flavour from the spied pecans and a little sweetness from the maple curd (12/20).
Service was excellent, with plentiful well-trained staff. If you ordered three courses and shared a modest bottle of wine then you could probably get away from here with paying about £95 a head or so, but our bill, with a bottle of lovely Kistler Sonoma Mountain Chardonnay, came to a chunky £258 per person. I was hoping that Louie would finally bring to London proper Creole of the kind that I ate in New Orleans food, but sadly that was not to be. Louie is overpriced, over-glitzy and over here.