Inspired by the rustic wine bars in Venice, POLPO offers an array of tantalising small dishes from the Veneto region. With signature delicacies including fried stuffed olives, zucchini arancini and fig & prosciutto crostini, all served with classic Italian drinks (did someone say Aperol Spritz?), Loiners will no doubt welcome a little taste of Italy in the heart of the City.
Spinach and Egg Pizzetta
We spoke to Russell ahead of the restaurant’s opening this Friday.
You’ve had quite a colourful career, could you tell us a bit more about it?
My career path is the result of a succession of accidents. I started working as an arts administrator in Peterlee straight after 3 years at Sunderland Polytechnic. It was a disaster! I moved back to London and fell into bartending, then waiting tables, then teaching English and Drama at secondary level in Stanmore. I quit teaching and got a job as a maitre d' and then took a few senior roles as general manager and operations director in large restaurant groups before founding POLPO with my best friend who I met at Sunderland Poly. I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up!
How did you decide on serving Venetian small plates?
Venice was the initial inspiration. I had such memorable dining experiences in the scruffy hostelries of that city but in a really simple way. The food was uncomplicated with very few ingredients but tons of flavour. The wines were always young and perfect for enjoying with friends over a few small plates. It seemed such a joyful and social way of dining that I wanted to bring it to the UK.
Why did you decide to open your first northern restaurant in Leeds?
We chose Leeds partly because of our partnership with Harvey Nichols and partly because it’s a fantastic place. I was familiar with the city as the father of an undergraduate here (Norman’s son Ollie spent 4 years at Leeds Met) and it is independently cultured and sophisticated in a very twenty-first century way.
Has it been exciting working with Harvey Nichols on the new restaurant?
It has indeed been very exciting working with Harvey Nichols. We work really well with them and I have really enjoyed the freedom they have given us to create something special in the food halls and dining areas.
Do you think there was a gap in the Leeds foodie market for something like Polpo?
The restaurant scene in Leeds is incredible, isn’t it? So vibrant and cutting edge but with a solid foundation in tradition. And such range, too. You can have a really excellent but reassuringly simple plate of goodness in The Arts Café or a cold platter and a glass of wine at Friends of Ham, or you can go to The Man Behind The Curtain and have your socks knocked off. So, we chose Leeds not because there was a gap in the market, but to be part of an already incredible city.
For more information and to see the full POLPO menu, head over to the restaurant’s website.