Restaurateur Russell Norman has made his name with his penchant for smallness. Small plates make up the essence of his much-lauded small dining rooms in the shape of Polpo, Polpetto and Spuntino. The formula has been honed to perfection, with his knack of adding the cool factor, turning them into some of the hottest restaurants in London.
Since the first Polpo opened on Beak Street in 2009, he has spread his wings further afield with other Polpo outposts – now found in Covent Garden, Smithfield, Seven Dials, Notting Hill, Chelsea and Brighton.
His latest opening sees him elevated on Harvey Nich‘s fifth floor. Here, the Venetian Bacaro is still at the heart of the Polpo Knightsbridge concept. Bare wooden tables, the signature yellowed paper table mats-come-menus and linen demi curtains (with Polpo cut outs) set the scene and give a hip addition to the store’s dining floor.
Norman’s inspiration was originally the rustic, back-street wine bars of Venice, known for their small but perfectly formed plates, known as cicheti. In Venice, some of these bacari only serve one or two types of dishes eaten, of course, while standing up at the bar. You want something different? Then you move on to the next place.
Norman’s strength is translating this concept for an urban crowd. In is charming, bistro-style decor but it’s mixed with a touch of New York industrialism – think subway tiles, screw-up stools and bare bricks. Dishes are simple yet there’s a nod to what’s going on in the food scene right now – cod cheeks with lentils & salsa verde, Pizzetta with spicy pork and pickled peppers, whipped smoked mackerel, pickled beetroot & carta di musica are the perfect mix of trad Italian meets latest food trend.
I’ve long-been a fan of Norman’s restaurants and of his ethos. (I’m also glad to say, having met him a few times, that in person he is as cool, charming and welcoming as his restaurants are.) Want any tips on what to order? My go-to dishes are the fritto misto, the meatballs and the pizzetta bianca. The flourless chocolate & hazelnut cake is also a winner to finish your meal with, washed down, of course, with a Aperol spritz or signature Bellini. It’s all simply delicious and is the essence of La Serenissima with a little bit of London edge. Perfectly formed.
POLPO Knightsbridge, Harvey Nichols, 109 – 125 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7RJ