New York gets a gastropub, via Birmingham
Mario Batali, unquestionably New York's most
charismatic chef, has several restaurants to his name. Babbo and Lupa
owe their earthy style of cooking to his Italian forebears and, more
recently, Bar Jamon and Casa Mono seek their inspiration from the
shores and streets of Barcelona.
His latest restaurant, The Spotted Pig, which opened its doors
last week has what may seem more prosaic antecedents - it is
his, and New York's, first take on a British gastro-pub. And
when it has found its culinary feet and impressed the city's
discerning eaters it will be because April Bloomfield, the
young chef Batali has imported from England, will have
achieved her goal and recreated the aromas and flavours which
first persuaded her to enrol at Birmingham's College of Food
Since then Bloomfield has worked at some of Britain's finest
restaurants - a couple of stints under Rowley Leigh at
Kensington Place; a year at Bibendum under Simon Hopkinson;
then with Paul Rankin in Belfast; and, finally, as sous chef
under Rose Grey and Ruth Rogers at the River Cafe. Although
when we met for lunch for what was her very first interview
just before she flew off to America she did say that she had
never compiled a written cv - a passion for food and the
highly complimentary recommendations of her employers have
until now carried her up the still heavily male professional
Bloomfield does not look the part. Slim and petite with a
shock of pre-Raphaelite hair, she gave no sign of working in a
professional kitchen until we shook hands and I could spot the
tell tale signs - extremely short fingernails on small hands
(which she claims are perfect for rolling pasta) and several,
vivid burn marks up both arms. And improbable as it may be to
imagine Bloomfield as a head chef it is even more so to see
her as a policewoman which was her earliest ambition.
"When I left school in Solihull I applied to become a cadet
in the police force but I had left it too late and was told to
re-apply in two years. I remember my Mother sitting me down
and asking me what I was going to do and as my two elder
sisters were already at catering school I thought I would go
along and have a look."
"It was the Birmingham College of Food and from the moment
walked in I just loved the place. The smells and aromas from
the ethnic kitchens they have there were just wonderful and
they have stayed with me ever since."
If, 14 years later Bloomfield still does not look like a chef
apart from her arms, she certainly eats like one. No sooner
had her first course of scallops been served than she lifted
it up to her nose to take in all its aromas, a habit she
repeated with her fish main course. And she eats quickly as
most professional chefs do.
"What has surprised me most, " Bloomfield confessed, "
much I love cooking. I always knew I could do it but now I
just love watching food cook, particularly frying food, and
getting the seasoning just right. I am very fortunate - I know
that I am in the right job."
Although the name The Spotted Pig could be ye olde English (in
fact it was conceived by Batali and his partner Ken Friedman
who has been collecting pig imagery for most of his life)
Bloomfield's initial menu is as catholic as those of many
Of the ten starters, only two are quintessentially British,
plates of oysters and a clam and smoked haddock chowder while
the others are in origin either Italian - bresaola marinated
in Chianti, crostini of wild mushrooms and tortellini with
ricotta - or Middle Eastern, a hummus and aubergine puree with
flat bread. Main courses include a hearty spatchcocked pigeon
and a chargrilled leg of lamb as well as more esoteric
scallops and sea bass and, naturally, an organic burger with,
less conventionally, chili jam. Desserts include her alma
mater's classic, the River Cafe chocolate nemesis.
But the aim of The Spotted Pig, as far as Batali is concerned,
is not for Bloomfield to duplicate what so many British chefs
are cooking but rather to be able to offer the casual
friendliness that is the leitmotif of a good British pub. "I
think, and hope, that a lot of people feel like I do and would
like a place to go and eat and relax without the silliness of
reservations. The Spotted Pig will, I hope, offer really great
food with a point of view and an attitude at a low end entry
price point in a very "neighbourhood" heighbourhood which
the West Village. Although, of course, it will get blown out
of all proportion in the press," he added with a smile.
And Batali is convinced that in April Bloomfield Birmingham
has provided him with just the right chef adding "April came
very highly recommended. She takes her food very seriously,
but does not take herself or myself too seriously at all.
That's how it should be."
The Spotted Pig, Greenwich Street and 11th Street, NY
Open 7 days 1100-0200, 212-620 0393.