English-born chef April Bloomfield has planted her particular brand of hearty, generally carnivorous cuisine in New York (the Spotted Pig, the Breslin Bar & Dining Room, the John Dory Oyster Bar, White Gold Butchers, Salvation Taco) and San Francisco (Tosca Cafe). She’s now extended her mini-empire to Los Angeles with the very English-sounding Hearth & Hound in Hollywood, and heartiness is deeply embedded in it. “It’s a concept all designed around wood fire,” she said. “We have a great 13-foot hearth and a wood oven.” Expect food that is “clean, vibrant, earthy, smoky — all of those things you think about when you think about wood-fired food. It’s definitely going to be — I wouldn’t say healthy, but clean flavors.”
Bloomfield, 43, was a relative latecomer to overseas travel — she didn’t leave England until she was 19 — but has made up for it. I spoke with her about her approach to travel, her love for California and how sometimes the best approach to a new place is simply to wander. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation.
Q: With restaurants on both coasts, you are now traveling quite a bit. What’s your general approach?
A: Efficiency. I like to keep things moving a lot. I don’t want to be that person everyone points at when they don’t take stuff out of their pockets. I basically do the same thing every time. Everything has its place — my passport, my phone.
I like to plan a few things in advance but I try not to overplan: Meals at a few important restaurants and play the rest by ear — just go with the flow. That way you really get to experience the city and you’re not under time constraints.
Q: You worked for years in London before coming to the United States. Any lesser-known London spots you would recommend?
A: Hackney is a really great place. It’s probably almost there; I don’t think it’s up-and-coming anymore. My friend Claire Ptak has got a really cute tea and bakery shop there called Violet. I met Claire at Chez Panisse, and every time I go to say hi to her, I’ll grab a cup of tea and some cake and we’ll catch up. And Shoreditch is really cool. There’s a restaurant there called Lyle’s that’s owned by a friend of mine called James Lowe. Very clean, simple food, but quite well thought-out and complex flavors. Those neighborhoods are a little bit of a schlep, but it’s nice to do at least one on a trip.
Q: What about your adopted city of New York? Two of your restaurants — the Breslin and the John Dory — are in the Flatiron district, one of my favorite neighborhoods.
A: It’s definitely a fun neighborhood to be around. You can feel the buzz. You can walk there every week and see something new, always some fun shops to hop into — including a bunch of great furniture and pottery shops in the 20s and 30s. Even up to Koreatown; you can get some great Korean food in K-town. I love Kunjip, and it’s open late.
Q: You opened Tosca Cafe in San Francisco a few years ago, and now you’re about to open a new restaurant in Los Angeles.
A: I absolutely adore California. Actually Ken [Friedman, her business partner] and I made a pact that we’d only do restaurants in places we really like to visit. I love the markets and the produce. I love that LA is just a little bit more laid back. There’s nice little pockets you can go to. Lots of antique shops, fabulous restaurants. Just fun, exciting spots that don’t look like much during the day, but then at night they totally transform.
And in San Francisco, you can go to Marin. You can eat great food, and check out Marin Brewing Co. and grab a beer at the bar.
Q: What about eating while traveling, in general? Any specific approaches?
A: I love to walk, and I think it’s the best way to get to know a city. Looking in windows and observing. Maybe hitting a little coffee spot and just overhearing a conversation or reading a guidebook. Just stumbling across places.
When I was in Tokyo, I really didn’t plan any time or anywhere to eat. So it was really just looking in windows and pointing to the food and saying “I’ll have what they’re having.”
The only thing I did plan on was going to Tsukiji fish market and having sushi in the morning. Apart from that, I spent four or five days completely lost — and we didn’t have a bad meal.