The restaurateur credited with transforming London’s dining scene with the opening of Polpo, Spuntino and Brutto, died last week at the age of 57.
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After quitting as a drama teacher, Norman would have involvement with a number of venues over his hospitality career, including Joe Allen in Covent Garden and Caprice Holdings’ portfolio. However, it was in the promotion and indeed celebration of Italian cuisine where his name would be made – Norman himself was a frequent visitor to the country.
Venetian cicchetti chain Polpo is widely considered to be the restaurant that really made small plates dining what it is today, as Observer critic Jay Rayner suggested in his tribute to Norman.
In autumn 2021, Norman would open his love letter to the trattorie of Florence with Brutto, near Farringdon station. Red checked tablecloths, £5 Negronis, a chalkboard listing the size of every bistecca all Fiorentina, and house wine by the carafe – it was an instant hit. The buzz surrounding Brutto, with its decor suggesting that it has been for much longer than it has, continues, and Norman had also just released a book called Brutto celebrating the dishes behind the restaurant. A hands on restaurateur, he was known to help the kitchen, wait tables and welcome customers at the door.
Norman’s sudden passing, reportedly after a short illness, has sparked a wave of tributes from across the world of food and drink.
Quo Vadis’ Jeremy Lee wrote on X/Twitter:
Shocked and saddened by the sudden news of Russel Norman who passed earlier today x a unique x brilliant talent x a brightest of lights and great chum of old x x way too young and way too soon x x x x
— Jeremy Lee (@JLQuoVadis) November 24, 2023
Famed London publican Oisín Rogers went with:
RIP Russell Norman. A true genius admired by everybody in restaurants who had any clue what they were doing
— Oisín Rogers (@McMoop) November 24, 2023
Food writer Tom Parker Bowles shared:
RIP Russell. A great writer, enthusiast, eater and restaurateur. A wonderful and generous friend to so many of us. And so many happy memories God speed xx pic.twitter.com/E4j4C3m4am
— Tom Parker Bowles (@tomparkerbowles) November 24, 2023
Gauthier Soho marketing director James Lewis took the opportunity to list some of the hallmarks of Norman’s restaurants:
Exposed brick walls
Brown paper menus
Reclaimed Metro tiles
Lace half curtains
Etc etc (so much more)
All these existed before, but Russell Norman put them together and made them fashionable
— James Lewis (@JLewisland) November 24, 2023
This writer would also like to note that, having met Norman once and corresponded with him on several occasions for articles, he always came across as charming, polite, and eager to help. Crucially, he understood the ‘hospitality’ aspect of the hospitality industry better than almost anyone.
This article was originally published by the drinks business and has been shared with permission.