My life in travel: Russell Norman

'Running across the bridges of New York showed me a different side of the city'

Click to follow
The Independent Travel

Russell Norman and his restaurant, Polpo, will host a Venetian banquet at Wilderness Festival in Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire, on Saturday 10 August. Weekend tickets £146.50 (

First holiday memory?

A family holiday to Gandía outside Valencia. My stepfather decided he would take us all to Spain in a pillar-box red Cortina Mark 1. We drove from Hounslow, west London, to Southampton and got on a boat which sailed through the night across the Bay of Biscay to San Sebastian. The car broke down at least once, but it was an adventure.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

We bought a cottage last year in rural Kent. It was built in 1699 and has a little garden with fields on one side, the Little Stour river on the other, and the village church in the background that chimes on the hour. It's lovely to have somewhere to escape to that's an hour's drive from London.

Best holiday?

My honeymoon to Venice. It's a city that my wife Jules and I had visited a couple of times and has subsequently become very important to my business because we've opened three restaurants that are influenced by the wine bars and backstreet bacari of Venice. It's a beautiful city at the best of times, but we got such glorious weather that it was a huge treat to do as a newly married couple.

What have you learnt from your travels?

That I don't switch off. My holidays have become merged with my business. Jules tells me that I ruin Venice for us, because I go into a restaurant and, all the time, I'm not just taking in the food, but the details, the table settings, everything. I've come back from so many so-called holidays with luggage stuffed with notes, photographs and menus.

Ideal travelling companion?

Jules and my family. However, I also really enjoy travelling alone. When I worked for Caprice Holdings, there were occasions when I had to fly to New York on my own. I thought I was going to hate not having a companion, but it was a complete revelation. I found myself dining alone at the Gramercy Tavern, exploring restaurants recommended for lone diners and reading a lot.

Greatest travel luxury?

I'm a real stationery geek so I love picking up notebooks. They're always interesting because they give a little snapshot of that particular journey. They're like little postcards to myself.

Holiday reading?

The book I remember enjoying most on holiday, was completely incongruous. It was a bucket-and-spade holiday in Ibiza, which I'd booked last minute. I read Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled, which is a breeze-block of a book with an odd, dream-like quality. I was completely transfixed.

Where has seduced you?

Florence. Before I went, somebody mentioned Stendhal Syndrome, which is a phenomenon that was coined with specific reference to Florence and describes the feeling of overwhelming, almost stupefying fear at somewhere being too beautiful. That's exactly the effect it had on me.

Best hotel?

Hotel Espléndido in Port Sóller, Mallorca. It's a 1930s Art Deco hotel that has been refurbished by a smart Swedish company. I stayed there this year with my wife. We treated ourselves to a two-level suite that had its own Jacuzzi on the roof. It's one of those hotels which manages to pull off five-star quality while being really casual.

Favourite run?

I've done the Venice marathon two years in a row now. For the first one, I was in New York during the training period. One morning, it was such a glorious day I decided to run across the three Downtown bridges: Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg. I saw parts of the city I'd never seen before.

Best meal abroad?

A little restaurant overlooking the bay in Assos, on the Greek Island of Kefalonia. Jules and I had hired an apartment and every evening we'd go down to this restaurant which we could almost touch from our balcony. We'd have very simple grilled fish, that was so incredibly fresh, straight out of the sea, cooked with white wine.

Where next?

Wilderness Festival next month. I took my wife to Glastonbury a couple of years ago so this year we did a bit of research and decided to go to Wilderness as a family. Serendipitously, I then got a call from the festival organisers asking if I wanted to do a banquet. So, I'm going partly to relax and partly to feed hundreds of festival goers.