A tribute to Russell Norman
Published 29 November 2023

‘It’s the sizzle, not the steak’. I’ll never forget Russell Norman teaching me this phrase as we perched at the counter of Polpo on Beak Street not long after it first opened, writes Adam Hyman.

Although reciting one of his many fun stories about a restaurant in New York, all of Russell’s restaurants had that sizzle. He changed the way we dine out and the settings in which we do so. No reservations, small plates, dimly lit squirrel cage light bulbs, £5 negronis, proper music playlists, funky servers. He bottled up elements of lower Manhattan restaurants, via Venice and Tuscany for the food, and brought a special sort of magic to London with Polpo, Spuntino, Polpetto and Brutto. He showed us how to have fun when dining out.

Russell was a friend. He was a mentor. He was a hero of mine. He was so generous in his hospitality, his time, his advice, his anecdotes, and he loved looking after people. He seemed at his happiest when doing so in his restaurants, and when he was writing. I remember the time we took a train to a restaurant outside London for lunch with a bottle of Champagne for the journey. Out came his favourite Duralex tumblers neatly wrapped in gingham napkins from a tote bag. I’ll miss his witty Instagram stories about grammar, his collection of quirky eyewear, his love of restaurants. I’m going to miss him most of all.

The articles written and all the social media posts over the past few days show not only how much he was respected by our industry but also how much he was loved. My thoughts are with his family and loved ones at this time. That sizzle may have gone, but his legacy will live on. It just won’t be the same without you, dear Russell. Rest in peace.