Opened first restaurant: 2009
For restaurateur Russell Norman, the path to conquering London with his Venetian-style hotspot Polpo was, paradoxically, both long and winding and a straight shot to the top. He first visited the City of Canals as a student with his friend (and future business partner) Richard Beatty, where he promptly fell in love with Venice’s “glorious decrepitude”. “It’s physically in decline; it reminded me of my own mortality,” he says. “Then I noticed the food.”
Decades – and many trips to Italy – later, Beatty convinced Norman to quit his job at restaurant group Caprice Holdings (owner of a swathe of famous London eating spots) and open a restaurant with him, inspired by all “the back-alley wine bars” that they so loved. The Soho spot launched in 2009 and Londoners queued for the unfussy atmosphere, plates of cichetti (small snacks) and generous Aperol spritzes. “For the first six months I was the first one in and the last one to leave,” says Norman. His hustle paid off: they soon expanded and there are now six Polpo locations across London and Brighton, as well as branches of sister restaurants Spuntino and Polpetto, which serves Brooklyn-inspired grub.
Cookbooks soon followed, first 2012’s Polpo and then 2015’s Spuntino. In 2014 he presented a six-part documentary for the bbc called The Restaurant Man; in 2015 he became a columnist for Esquire in the UK. “I think the thing I do most now is write,” says Norman, who studied English at university. “I see myself as a writer; that’s how I position myself among the various plates I have spinning.” For his third book, Venice: Four Seasons of Home Cooking, he spent 14 months living in the city, shopping in the markets and preparing his own meals at home every single day. “This is me exploring genuine, experiential home cooking in Venice.”
In order to keep those spinning plates in motion, Norman relies on a team as diverse and wide-ranging as his career has been. Among those he includes in his inner circle are editors, designers, photographers, networkers, entrepreneurs and a fuzzy-faced counsellor for when it all gets to be a bit much – otherwise known as Tegwyn, Norman’s two-year-old cavalier-poodle mix.