Friday, 2 November 2012

April Bloomfield at St John Hotel

What to say about April Bloomfield and her two night residency at St John Chinatown?

In some ways, it was like being reunited with an old friend. But also it could herald very exciting things for the future.

April is a British chef from the River Café school, but her name has been made in New York. The Spotted Pig ‘gastro-pub’ in the Village, followed by John Dory and The Breslin within the Ace Hotel. Much like McNally, she’s carved a following among more food-obsessed Brits as she’s charmed New York, but has remained largely unknown in her homeland.

Her star dish is the Spotted Pig burger, a sloppy expanse of perfectly pink meat and gooey blue cheese, and the iconic rosemary matchstick fries. I first had it in about 2004, long before anything in London was edible away from ethcni or fine dining, let alone the burger mania of late. We spoke about it for years afterwards; the mess it created, the decadence, those amazing fries… could it now be coming to London?

April’s one dud I had at The Breslin a few years back. It was a fatty rancid rolled pig’s leg; basically a $50 battered sausage with pork pie gelatine. I was anxious I'd be facing that again, it's definitely to be avoided…

So I was a bit nervous about the menu, as her Breslin dishes are quite challenging in terms of nose to tail, but relief set in as the burger was leaked.

Starters were a fantastic haddock chowder and a creamy dish of gnudi with sage and brown butter. Both were excellent, and reasonably priced. I was pleased overall, as April could probably have charged a hugely expensive set price for the novelty, and it would still have been packed.

Rabbit with fennel and bacon was an interestingly flavoured dish. Very contemporary in that meat/fish + two ingredients formula seen at 10 Greek Street, Copita or Duck Soup, it would be bang on trend in an April London resto.

And on to the burger… 

Feelings of fondness and nostalgia for our first trip to New York together (and my first being over 21), have clearly been a powerful thing. Not because there was anything wrong with the burger: it was brilliantly cooked and tasted great.  But between 2004 and today, I’ve had so many great burgers (as any regular reader would groaningly attest) that it’s hard to exalt one above the many others. 

Underwhelmed would be too far, but there was that slight anticlimactic feeling of revisiting a childhood favourite film and finding it a bit meh. It wasn’t bad; it was very good, but London isn’t the foodie desert it once was. Especially where New York imitation comes in...

What irony where a Brit trailblazes in New York, creates a archetypal dish for that city, and upon repatriation is just a few years too late, and returns to a foodie landscape where aping New York is now honed to perfection.

£16.50 is about ok for the burger given the style of the event, but that price point for a permanent fixture of April’s would be inadvisable, given the range of burger between £7-12 in this town.

The red carpet was firmly rolled out for April (the restless, sceney dining room was littered with yappy C-listers like the F-Word, and not an insignificant velvet following), and I’m sure London could fall for her understated, accessible charm.

I remember being so excited about Bill Granger in London (more nostalgia from Sydney) and being let his Notting Hill hellhole still going? I very much hope April doesn’t go the same way as greedy Granger, should she decide to venture a London resto.

She is far from a one-trick pony, and I have faith in her adventurous yet simple cooking, but reputation is everything, and a 2013 London cannot be conquered by blue cheese burger alone…

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