My design London: Russell Norman - restaurateur

Owner of Polpo, Spuntino and Polpetto restaurants in Soho, and da Polpo and Mishkin's in Covent Garden, restauranteur Russell Norman opens up on his favourite London haunts
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Russell Norman
Russell Norman in the kitchen of his Hither Green home
Russell Norman, 46, was a drama teacher at a girls' school in Harrow before making the career change to the restaurant business. He began as a waiter then worked for Richard Caring as operations director. Today he owns Polpo, Spuntino and Polpetto restaurants in Soho, and da Polpo and Mishkin's in Covent Garden.

Where I live

With my wife, Jules, and our daughters, Martha, six, and Mabel, five, in Hither Green, between Lewisham and Blackheath in south-east London. I also have a son, Ollie, who is 21 and at university. The house is in a quiet, early Edwardian estate built in 1905 by a Quaker called Archibald Cameron Corbett. He stipulated there should be no pubs there, but I love the area's parochial and suburban feel.

What home means to me

It's about family, cooking and food. As I don't do the cooking in my restaurants, it is always such a treat to come home and cook for my family. Nothing makes me happier.

Family table
Favourite object: Norman cherishes his family's timber kitchen table

Favourite object

Our kitchen table, which we got from an antiques dealer in Kingston. It's about 150 years old, full of charm and character and now with our crayon marks, tea stains and spilt porridge. There's a drawer underneath stuffed with my daughters' drawings.

Favourite home colours

We've wanted colours in keeping with the mood of our house. The sitting room is quite dark so we painted it in Farrow & Ball's Terre d'Egypte, which is deep and warm. We also used Farrow & Ball's Light Blue and Vert de Terre, which are subtle, grown-up and elegant.

Aladdin's Cave in Lewisham Way
© Adrian Lourie
Aladdin's Cave in Lewisham Way - "mostly full of rubbish" but Norman rarely goes home empty-handed

Coveted design object

I have always wanted an orrery, which is a working model of the solar system. The large brass antique ones are mind-bogglingly expensive but utterly beguiling and exquisite.

Most interesting shop

Aladdin's Cave, near us in Lewisham Way. It is mostly full of rubbish, but I love spending time there and usually find something essential for my home or one of the restaurants. I got all my taps and door handles there and the prices are a tenth of those fashionable reclamation yards.

Most interesting new designer

Avroko is a New York-based design practice whose work is interesting and clever. They've built a number of restaurants and they believe, as I do, that there is beauty in what other people think of as ugly. Their book, Best Ugly: And Other Design Principles for the Unexpected, Offbeat and Awkwardly Beautiful, inspired me when it came to how my restaurants should look.

The Old Operating Theatre - London Bridge
© Alamy
The Old Operating Theatre at London Bridge, is more for the ghoulish than the squeamish

Favourite museum

The Old Operating Theatre is right next to London Bridge. It's very Dickensian inside and full of gruesome things, including surgical instruments and macabre knick-knacks.

The highlight is the rickety wooden operating table in the theatre itself. Until 1847 surgeons had no effective anaesthetics so had to operate at great speed. They could amputate a leg in 30 seconds.

Where I escape

I treasure my solitude and like to go and stand on Hungerford Bridge, which has the best views of London. You see South Bank on one side and the Embankment on the other and it changes your perspective of the city.

Mishkin's in Covent Garden
Norman found inspiration for his latest restaurant Mishkin's in Covent Garden from a pie and mash shop on Bethnal Green Road, east London

Design and restaurants

I like design born of practicality and function. When I was researching ideas for my latest restaurant, Mishkin's, I went to New York, Whitechapel and Bethnal Green and fell in love with G Kelly, a pie-and-mash shop in Bethnal Green Road. I was so taken by its unchanged shop front, tiling and gorgeous proletarian benches that it has had a big influence on the way Mishkin's looks now.

Best London market

It is only small but Greenwich Clocktower Market next to the car park behind Greenwich Picturehouse has a great collection of small traders who sell everything from military paraphernalia and musical instruments to mirrors and antique furniture. I rarely leave empty-handed.

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