‘The most gifted of restaurateurs’ – industry pays tribute to Russell Norman

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

‘The most gifted of restaurateurs’ – restaurant industry pays tribute to Russell Norman

Related tags Russell Norman Brutto Polpo Restaurant

Tributes from across the hospitality sector have been paid to Russell Norman, the multi award-winning restaurateur and author who died last week at the age of 57.

In online tributes, Norman was described as ‘one of the most gifted of restaurateurs’ and credited with ushering in an era of more informal but no less considered dining.

“[He was] such a big and creative personality, larger than life, generous and charming,” said Rachel O'Sullivan, who led the kitchen of Norman’s American diner-style restaurant Spuntino.

“He injected so much energy into the hospitality industry, stripping it of its somewhat stuffy and serious ways and bringing some much-needed joy in dining out to the forefront.

“The right lighting and the right playlist were just as important to him as the service and food offering.”

Norman was perhaps best known as the co-founder of Spuntino and Venetian sharing plates restaurant Polpo in London, and more recently as the founder of the Florentine-inspired Brutto in Farringdon.

Many of the tributes paid to him have focused on his influence on the restaurant scene.

“The way he changed UK restaurants and dining out will be felt for years and years to come,” wrote Rosie Birkett, a food writer and journalist who previously travelled to Venice with Norman.

“And more than that, his charm and wit, enthusiasm and generosity will be missed by so many.”

Restaurant ​editor Stefan Chomka described him as ‘a restaurateur like no other’​.

“He loved restaurants that were like him: that had lots of charm and great character,” he told The Guardian​.

“He had a real sense of hospitality, as well as joy, intelligence, generosity and an eye for detail. He had a magpie tendency: he would take inspiration from restaurants in Italy, New York and London and bring them all together.”

Chef and author Valentine Warner, who was a friend of Norman, described him as a ‘wonderful and complex renaissance man’.

In his own dedication, published on Instagram and written directly to Norman, he said: “With all your moving parts it’s as if one was lent to you from each era. One minute as if you’d bounced off a 1920’s tennis court with racket in a clamp, pressed trousers and plimsoles, then suddenly a knife in the sail sort of Erol Flynn, or Indiana Jones in museum mode, or solemn poet.

“By the way, your ability to retain knowledge was old school and most impressive. A brilliant tour guide to life you were high octane, funny, tender, eager, sad, thoughtful and if you didn’t know… you wanted to know more and if you did know… it was thorough in its study.”

Numerous tributes also recognised Norman’s work as an author.

His first cookbook, POLPO: A Venetian Cookbook (of Sorts)​, won the inaugural Waterstones Book of the Year prize in 2012; and his second book, SPUNTINO - Comfort Food (New York Style)​, won the 2016 Guild of Food Writers Award for best food and travel book.

Food critic Jay Rayner said: “[Norman] was one of the most gifted of restaurateurs, a terrific writer and an awful lot of fun to be around.

“He very much lived life his own way.”

Jeremy Lee, owner of Soho restaurant and members' club Quo Vadis, wrote that he was ‘deeply saddened’ to hear of Norman’s passing, describing him as “the life enhancing and unique brightest of lights in restaurants and author of wonderful books”.

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