The Sunday Times restaurant reviewer and TV critic began his career as an artist, studying at St Martins and the Slade. His autobiography, Pour Me, is out now
How has your style evolved over the years? Because I went to art school, I think I have quite a good eye and I’m a design-savvy person and I’ve probably got quite good taste. I’d like to imagine that I have an effortless, pared-down, beautiful sense of space but, actually, I realise I’m like Steptoe. I just pick stuff up. I’m sitting talking to you now from a room that looks like a junk shop. There’s something in me that just likes clutter. I’m a bit of a hoarder.
Who or what are your biggest influences?
My influences have changed. I grew up in a family that was very keen on English, Festival-of-Britain modernism, so Heal’s and G-Plan, that sort of thing. I still have a great fondness for it. I live in a bit of London that is mostly Victorian terraces, but I’m in a concrete-and-brick 1960s house that is timidly Brutalist, which I love. Having always wanted to have sparse, modern things around me, I now have hankerings for little bits of antique things. But what I really like are homes and rooms that mix old and new things.
Who is your design hero? Someone like Sir John Soane, because his museum is a bit like what my house is aspiring to be. I have a sort of Woolworths version of it – lots of stuff and artefacts. My design nemesis is the National Trust – those heavy walls lined with gilded portraits of really ugly people and lots of sofas with side tables and lamps with shades that look like knickers – I hate all that stuff.
What is your favourite building? On one level, my favourite building is my own home. I travel a lot and when I get back and see my own front door, knowing that my kids are going to be in, there’s nothing as good as that. But the building I constantly go back to and always find astonishing is the Pantheon in Rome, built by the Emperor Hadrian. The light that comes through the roof – it’s the most amazing space.
Describe your dream home It would have a view of the sea and would be half an old cottage and half really modern. I’d like to build it myself on one of the Western Isles.
Describe your real home It’s a 1960s building over four floors. It’s quite stark – white and quite simple. It started off with good design intentions and then it got children!
What are you sitting on right now? An exercise ball. Almost everyone my age who spends their day hunched over a computer has a bad back. I don’t. I sit at my desk (an old Conran table with a slate top) on one of those exercise balls. It means I sit up straighter.
What is Scotland’s greatest attribute? A sort of creative pessimism.