Vale Russell Norman

The London restaurant world this week mourned the passing of Russell Norman, creator of Polpo, Spuntino and Trattoria Brutto, who has died suddenly at the age of 57.

Born and brought up in London’s northwestern outskirts, Russell was a host of legendary charm host who cut his teeth in the trade as a barman-turned-restaurant manager – most notably with Joe Allen, Zuma and the Caprice group – before launching on his own account.

Polpo, inspired by the bàcari of Venice and co-founded with his friend Ricard Beatty, was a huge hit when it opened in 2009, and helped popularise Negronis, small plates and no-reservations casual dining.

It also spawned the first of Russell’s four cookbooks, kick-starting a second career as an author. To research his third book, ‘Venice: Four Seasons of Home Cooking’, he said memorably that he had spent a year in Italy learning “to cook like a 90-year-old Venetian granny”.

His latest book, ‘Brutto: A (Simple) Florentine Cookbook’, was published last month, and followed the instant success of Brutto, Russell’s love letter to the trattorias of Florence, launched in Clerkenwell in 2021.

Brutto is the top-rated London restaurant in its price bracket (under £55 a head) in the 2024 Harden’s guide, in which it scores a rare full marks for ambience and is described as “hard to fault for a classic Italian” with “buzzy and glamorous” style.

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