Russell Norman's Polpo restaurants are inspired by Venetian bàcari

Inspired by the local haunts of Venice, Russell Norman has taken the London restaurant scene by storm with his take on the city’s bàcari (traditional Venetian bar). He talks simple food and undiscovered gems with Miranda York.

There’s a very small restaurant halfway between St Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge, with just 24 seats, called Alle Testiare. It’s run by two guys – Bruno and Luca - who have a passion for the city, a passion for the local ingredients and the suppliers that work there. They go to the market in the morning, pick up ingredients and then construct a menu based on what’s available. I just love their take on food and there’s something really lovely about the way they work – everyone from the owners to the kitchen porter works every shift, takes the same two days off and the restaurant closes every August so they can spend time with their families. It’s a business but it’s also a lifestyle. And they have such passion for what they do, which is in evidence in the way they make you feel, as well as what is presented on the plate.
Castello 5801, Calle del Mondo Novo, Venice, 30122 (tel: 041 522 7220;

I usually go to a place called Cantinone, which is a wine shop near the San Trovaso bridge, just behind the Accademia. It’s a wine shop but it also has a counter with a coffee machine and bottles of wine. The mother of the family, Alessandra, is there in her blue pinny every day making cichèti (traditional bar snacks). So I head there for a few of her cichèti and a glass of wine. It’s one of the most famous, most characterful bàcari in Venice.
Dorsoduro 992, Ponte San Trovaso, Venice; (tel: 041 523 0034)

If you go to Campo Santa Margherita, which is a very large square in Dorsoduro, you can sit in a student bar there called Caffè Rosso. It doesn’t actually have a sign – it just says caffè – but it’s red so everyone calls it the red café. It does nothing really other than serve thousands of spritz cocktails every day, which is a delightful concoction of Campari or Aperol with white wine and soda. There’s probably space for about 20 or 30 people inside, so it’s tiny, but people sprawl out onto the square when the weather’s warm. They have the worst loos in Venice but it’s a great place to sit for an hour or two and just people-watch.
Dorsoduro 2963, Campo Santa Margherita, Venice (tel: 041 528 7998)

I’d suggest getting up early and going to the Rialto market. It’s quite a touristy thing to do – lots of people taking photos of the fish and the fishmongers thinking they’re crazy – but it’s a very evocative and inspiring place. It’s a proper, living, breathing market – you’ll find locals there buying the daily catch for their evening meal, you’ll find chefs buying ingredients; it’s really lovely.
Campo San Giacomo/Campo della Pescheria, San Polo, Venice

A friend of mine runs a cookery course; her name is Contessa Enrica Rocca and she has a little studio behind the family palazzo in Dorsoduro, right next to the hotel I stay in. She’ll meet you in the morning, take you to the Rialto market, buy ingredients, talk to the traders, and then you go back and help her prepare the meal, or just watch her cook. If you want an experience that’s beyond just going to a restaurant, sitting down and choosing some dishes, I’d really recommend it.
Dorsoduro 568/A, 30123, Venice, (tel: 338 634 3839;

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