18 Higher Market Guildhall, Queen Street, Exeter – T: @polpo
I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Polpo now for, well… months. We were sad to hear that Grillstock were going to abandon plans to visit Exeter but we knew that in its place would be something exciting. There was the usual speculation from foodies and news outlets, but to hear that we were getting famed Venetian cuisine restaurant Polpo was a massive plus for foodies in Exeter. Co-founded and steered by the charismatic writer and restaurateur Russell Norman, we grabbed 10 Questions with Russell soon after it was announced.
If you’ve never heard of Russell before then you might have seen him on telly as The Restaurant Man a few years ago. If this is still not ringing any bells, take a look at this video.
He is currently writing another book about Venice, having just returned from a 10 day stint. Polpo even take their staff to Venice to experience the Venetian way of life so they can themselves share that passion with their customers.
Their latest restaurant is Exeter which is now open for business. We were invited along to sample what makes Polpo special.
Polpo is the the result of a long love affair that Russell has with Venice and its culture. He is an apostle for the Venetian way of eating and drinking, and a font of knowledge about the subject too. Just chatting to him casually in the restaurant made us realise that he was passionate about Polpo, the brand, the ethos and its mission to keep things cheap and simple.
Russell was the first person we saw on the door. I turned to Tori and said in not-so-hushed amazement, “That’s the founder, Russell Norman!” My powers of discretion are terrible.
Taken to our seats by a friendly waitress we were in one of the booth seats by the kitchen, a perfect place to see how the kitchen worked and watch service at work.
The interior of Polpo was as I thought it would be, a well thought out collection of reclaimed features including the floor that was salvaged from an old hospital from The North. Hidden for decades under a modern floor, this addition to the restaurant is one of particular pride, so whatever you do, don’t drop your food on it! The tiles, fittings and decor gave a feeling of faded elegance, but in such a way that it was clean and well thought out.
The menu is a simple, cheap and elegant. There is the option to have a more substantial meal if you wish, or you can nibble on Cichetti, which is a little like Venetian tapas. Venetians often like to partake in a giro d’ombra which is essentially like a pub crawl with lots of little bits of food.
I was lucky enough to sit down with Russell for a mini-interview for the upcoming Eating Exeter podcast (launching soon!) he was absolultely brilliant to talk to, one of the things mentioned was the signature Fritto Misto and Red Chicory which I just had to go for. Both fabulous.
Lauren and Steve had Pizza with Cured Pork Shoulder & Pickled Pepper (jalapeño). We were introduced to the concept of Braised Cod cheeks with lentils and the brave ones amongst us had Marinated Baby Octopuses… I didn’t because frankly, I am a wuss sometimes.