db interview: Russell Norman of Polpo27th February, 2014 by Lucy Shaw
A lot of things keep Russell Norman awake at night. The reopening of Polpetto and the launch of a fourth Polpo site in Notting Hill are the latest causes of his insomnia.
Despite displaying a confident demeanour, Norman is a worrier. “I worry a lot about my restaurants. I’ll often be wide awake at 3am unable to get back to sleep,” he says, blaming his lack of sleep on an inability to switch off. His business partner and best friend, Richard Beatty, suffers from the same affliction. Norman is an engaging presence. His masculine features appear much softer in real life than in photos, his searching blue eyes seemingly seeking approval.
He has a charming, childlike enthusiasm and an infectious appetite for life. The 47-year-old father-of-two has come a long way since his Saturday job waiting tables at Joe Allen in Covent Garden. In just more than four years he has built a seven-strong central London restaurant empire taking in three Polpo sites, the soon-to-reopen Polpetto, New York diner Spuntino, Jewish deli Mishkin’s and the latest jewel in his crown: The Ape & Bird, a gastropub in the heart of Theatreland.
He and Beatty are self-funded, which brings both complete freedom and nail-biting risk. “With each new site, we’re cranking up the risk so it’s becoming increasingly terrifying. Don’t get me wrong, risk is good and I try to never take anything for granted. A certain degree of worrying is healthy as it means you stay alert and pick up on mistakes – it’s dangerous to let complacency set in,” he notes.