10 Questions for Polpo co-founder Russell Norman

Last week Eating Exeter excitedly broke the news that Polpo was coming to the Queen St Dining Quarter.  We tracked down co-founder Russell Norman to find out what lies in-store for Exeter diners.  Take five minutes to have a look at the video at the bottom, it gives a really good idea what Polpo is all about.

Photos are courtesy Polpo Restaurants

  1. What are you most looking forward to about the new restaurant in Exeter?

We have made some significant changes for our opening in Exeter and I’m looking forward to launching a Polpo with so many points of difference. We will be open for breakfast. We will have a fantastic value set menu in addition to the a la carte menu. There will be some dishes made and served table-side. And I’m really looking forward to lazy, sunny afternoons on our beautiful terrace sipping Campari and nibbling cicheti (Venetian snacks).

  1. How ‘Italian’ is Venentian cuisine? Does it differ widely from some of the more well-known Italian dishes?

Venice has a very different food culture to the rest of Italy and the Polpo menu has been very much influenced by that. Seafood, of course, a little pasta and some tomato-less pizzas, but the culture of small plates is what has influenced us the most. Venetians love sharing food, family-style, and so do we!

  1. Seasonal menus must be important to a brand like Polpo?

We change the menu 5 to 6 times a year to follow the seasons. It’s very important to go with the natural rhythms of the year in terms of ingredients and dishes. Exeter will be opening at my favourite time of the year in terms of food: Spring. So fresh, green vibrant and happy.

  1. What is your ethos in regards to sourcing ingredients?

We take our inspiration from Italy, but always source locally where we can. Our fish and seafood comes from the south coast and our grocer works with farmers in Kent, Sussex, Dorset and Devon.

  1. Why Venice? What made you want to recreate a Venetian bacaro back in 2009?

I first went to Venice as a student in the late 1980s and I’m afraid I rather fell in love with the city and have been going back several times a year ever since. When it came to opening my own restaurant, the food I knew best was Venetian, so it seemed like a sensible idea to stick with what I knew.

  1. You started your journey in the restaurant world as a waiter and worked up the ranks. How important do you think this experience was to you when you were starting Polpo?

It’s always a good idea to work your way up. That way, you know what it’s like to be waiting tables, cleaning fridges, sweeping the floor, working long shifts and, most importantly, looking after customers.

  1. If you had to choose two particular dishes to recommend to diners who are completely new to Polpo and Venetian dining, which ones would they be?

Always order the fritto misto. Always order a spritz!

  1. How easy will it be to book a table in the evening at our new Polpo?

We are being totally relaxed about reservations at Polpo Exeter. You can book, walk-in, sit at the bar, sit outside, take a booth, whatever you want. We have online booking, too. So the short answer is: “Very easy.” But because we keep tables back for walk-ins, you can even get a table when we are fully booked.

  1. The interiors of your restaurants are lovely. Do you still take charge in designing the interior of new restaurants?

I love places that look lived-in, so I take charge of all the designs and try to use as many antiques and reclaimed materials as possible.

  1. Finally, the Venetians love their wine. What is your favourite Venetian wine?

The most Venetian wine on the list is the Malibran Glera “Col Fondo”. This is a prosecco with tiny bubbles, not sweet at all, and very slightly cloudy because it has been left on the lees. Delicious.

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