By Hannah Norman (no relation of Russell’s – at least, we don’t think!)
An evening of prosecco and cicheti sounds like an Italian dream to most people, and so it was that we found ourselves in the expansive lobby of Hotel Heureka in Venice about to enjoy just that! Organised by British maverick restaurateur Russell Norman (the founder of London’s POLPO restaurants), the event was designed to showcase Russell’s flair and knowledge of local Venetian ingredients (think pickled vegetables from the nearby island of Sant Erasmo, and soft shell crab fresh from the lagoon), in the beautiful setting of one of the city’s newest boutique hotels.
Having opened its doors at the latter end of 2017, Hotel Heureka sits on the edge of the Madonna dell’Orto canal. It has just ten rooms, all individually and artfully designed, plus two Piani Nobili floors (a rarity in Venice), and the large lobby-cum-bar area which doubles up as a quirky event space, with a huge lighting constellation dominating the room which, according to the interior designer, Angela Valach of Plan A EinRichtung, symbolises the coming together of all the elements of the hotel. The great and the good of Venetian society braved the rising flood waters of the seasonal acqua alta to enjoy the evening (that night at its highest level of over 160 cm), and taste the food that Russell and his team had prepared.
The highlight of this feast of circulating platters was undoubtedly something Russell referred to as “escaped birds.” So the story goes, the men of Venice of old would head off to the marshes to hunt wild birds. If they were unlucky and couldn’t catch anything, they would have to head back by the local butcher’s in order to get something for their families’ suppers but, being the end of the day, was usually the off-cuts of meat that no-one else had wanted to buy. When confronted by their wives about why they were returning with meat instead of fowl, the excuse that was allegedly always given was, “because the birds escaped!” Enjoying melt-in-the-mouth pork skewered with juicy chunks of autumnal apple, we’re not sure why the wives were complaining!
Russell finished the evening with a Negroni jelly, which packed a punch and then some! Not that we needed anything strong at this stage, having enjoyed copious glasses of delicious prosecco, that came care of the Bisol vineyard on the island of Mazzorbo. The steep, sloping hills of beyond Valdobbiadene – the spiritual homeland of Prosecco Superiore wine – combined with the unique terroir, has meant 21 generations of the Bisol family’s know-how has gone into producing this spectacular prosecco.
As the evening drew to a close and we retired to our suites in the hotel, with the twinkling lights across the Venetian lagoon just visible from the windows, we were reminded of the title of Russell’s latest cookbook, called Venice – Four Seasons of Home Cooking. We can very much recommend Autumn – now bring on Winter!
Hotel Heureka – www.hotel-heureka.com
POLPO by Russell Norman – www.polpo.co.uk
Bisol Prosecco – www.bisol.it
Nexa Eventi (event and travel designers) – www.nexave.org
Venice Quality Transfers (private water taxi services) – www.venicequalitytransfers.com