The news that Polpo closed its Notting Hill restaurant earlier this month is yet another milestone in what has been a very eventful decade for the groundbreaking Italian restaurant group. Here’s how the past 10 years have panned out for Polpo.
Former English teacher and operations director at Caprice Holdings Russell Norman joins forces with friend Richard Beatty to launch Polpo on Soho’s Beak Street. With its bare brick walls, low hanging lighting, casual front of house service, no reservations and Negronis, Polpo is an instant hit and becomes an unofficial blueprint for a new style of buzzy neighbourhood restaurant.
Together with chef Florence Knight the duo opens Polpetto above The French House on Soho’s Dean Street. Like the original Polpo the 28-cover restaurant is a smash hit. Knight had previously worked with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons and then at his Diamond Club at the Emirates Stadium, but it is with her role as Polpetto head chef that she makes a splash in the restaurant world.
As part of Norman’s and Beatty’s plans to create a group of eclectic and individual restaurants the pair open Spuntino in Soho followed by Da Polpo in Covent Garden. Billed as a ‘scruffy small-plate joint serving strong cocktails and Italian/American comfort food with a scratchy blues soundtrack’, Spuntino continues in the same informal, buzzy vibe of the first two restaurants but with more of hipster edge. Da Polpo, which means ‘Polpo’s Place’, opens a month later and is designed to be a more informal spin-off of the original Polpo, with the 75-cover restaurant opening in June in Maiden Lane. The same year Polpo is awarded a Bib Gourmand in the Michelin guide to Great Britain and Ireland.
The group’s push into New York-inspired territory continues with the opening of Mishkin’s in Covent Garden. Based on a Jewish deli but with a focus also on cocktails, Mishkin’s is inspired by New York’s Lower East Side and the cafe’s of east London. The company opens its second Polpo ‘proper’, in London’s Smithfield. Polpetto closes over difficulties with the restaurant’s small size.
Polpetto is revived as a larger restaurant on Soho’s Berwick Street with Florence Knight once again at the helm. Norman and Beatty take on their biggest project to date with the opening of The Ape & Bird in London’s Cambridge Circus. The 5,000sq ft restaurant and pub is split over three floors with a basement cocktail bar, ground floor pub, adjacent ground floor restaurant and upstairs dining room, continuing the pair’s move into different aspects of the restaurant sector.
The group opens its eighth restaurant, a Polpo in London’s Notting Hill.
The year marks the start of a national expansion for the group with the opening of its first regional restaurant in Brighton. The group also swells its London portfolio with the opening of another Polpo, in Chelsea. Tom Oldroyd, Polpo’s chef-director, leaves the group to start his own restaurant.
The group’s move outside of London continues with the opening of a Polpo on the fourth floor of the Harvey Nichols store in Leeds at the start of the year. It follows this with the opening on the fifth floor of Harvey Nichols in London’s Knightsbridge. In July the group closes the Leeds restaurant, stating it is looking for a new location within the city. Mishkin’s in Covent Garden closes
The group makes a push into the south west of England with the openings of Polpos in Exeter and Bristol. It also opens a second Spuntino, in Bristol’s Wapping Wharf Cargo 2 development. Luke Bishop, the MD of Polpo, leaves the company and is replaced by former Bill’s managing director Scott McDonald.
The Exeter Polpo closes at the start of the year after less than a year’s trading. Norman and Beatty also sell The Ape & Bird to BrewDog, saying that they were offered a deal that they couldn’t refuse. The Bristol Spuntino also closes after less than a year in business. Polpetto is given a revamp with a new design and new chef Anthea Stephenson from The River Café at the helm. Stephenson leaves the role later in the year after less than two moinths in charge of the restaurant. In December Spuntino makes the surprise move into the airport sector with the launch of a restaurant at Heathrow Terminal 3. Scott Macdonald departs as managing director of Polpo after less than a year and a half in the job.
The Bristol Polpo closes at the start of the year. In March the group announces it is entering into a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA). Beatty writes in recent filings on Companies House that the CVA will allow Polpo to “avoid entering in to administration or liquidation” by exiting two “loss making central London sites”. Polpo closes its Notting Hill restaurant.
The original Spuntino in Soho is set to close in July this year, with Norman and Beatty seeking a “bigger and better” Soho site after the landlord decided to take back the lease. The pair are offering a £10,000 finder’s fee to anyone who can find an off-market opportunity. “Rarely has a restaurant been so closely associated with the physical space it inhabits,” says Beatty. “But we have been greatly encouraged by the success of Spuntino at Heathrow Airport and have seen the potential for a reborn Spuntino in Soho that is bigger and better.”
Spuntino’s success at Heathrow could see the duo move the restaurant into more transport hub locations - a tactic currently being employed by a number of brands that see the benefit in the high footfall locations and being able to take on potentially smaller restaurant locations. As for the expansion of the Polpo brand itself, it seems unlikely the restaurant will appear on a high street outside of London again. But that’s not to say Norman and Beatty haven’t got another idea up their sleeves.