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Menuwatch: Caractère

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Written by:
Menuwatch: Caractère

Emily Roux and Diego Ferrari are serving classical French cooking with an Italian twist at their first solo restaurant in London’s Notting Hill

Expectations were high when Emily Roux announced that she would be opening a London restaurant with husband Diego Ferrari two years ago. Roux, daughter of Michel Roux Jr (owner of the two-Michelin-starred Le Gavroche in London) and third generation of the Roux dynasty to turn restaurateur; and Ferrari, former head chef at Le Gavroche, have some of the strongest credentials in the food world behind them.

Not including their Le Gavroche experience, Roux trained at Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon, France, and worked at the Michelin-starred Akrame in Paris, while Ferrari spent seven years working under chef Alain Ducasse. The pair met at Ducasse’s Louis XV in Monaco.

It was perhaps unexpected for some, then, when Roux revealed that she would be overseeing the restaurant’s front of house, not the kitchen, shortly ahead of opening in October last year.

Monkfish and parsley root
Monkfish and parsley root

“If we were both in the kitchen, we probably wouldn’t be together anymore,” laughs Roux. “Since being back in London I’ve done a lot with Restaurant Associates [Compass Group’s fine dining arm], doing big events and demonstrations in front of an audience, so it made more sense… but I’m in the kitchen as soon as they need me.”

The couple do, however, develop the menu together. “I’ll start off with an idea and say, ‘I think we should do that,’ and then normally he clashes with my idea completely, and eventually we revert to somewhere back in the middle of what I said originally,” she laughs.

Lobster, smoked cauliflower purée, Romanesco, pickled shavings
Lobster, smoked cauliflower purée, Romanesco, pickled shavings

The menu changes seasonally and suppliers include Flying Fish Seafoods in Cornwall, Keltic Seafare for scallops, the Lake District Farmers collective for lamb, and Nature’s Choice, Mash and Classic Fresh Foods for fruit and vegetables.

The pair describe Caractère as “somewhere we would want to eat” – simple, good quality food, where “you could recognise all the ingredients on the plate,” points out Roux.

She adds, “the sauces and jus are done in a certain way, which is very French, so it’s similar in that essence to Le Gavroche, but the crockery and cutlery is a lot quirkier and more modern.” The Italian influences come from Milan-born Ferrari’s background.

interior

Caractère by name, characterful by nature; the menu offers three starters (‘curious’), three vegetable dishes (‘subtle’), fish (‘delicate’), meat (‘robust’), a cheese course (‘strong’) and three desserts (‘greedy’). Guests can select a dish from each character ‘trait’ to make up a £78 tasting menu or a £39 three-course lunch menu.

“We are both rather stubborn and have a lot of character, so Caractère sounded like a good word to describe us, and then hopefully our food has a lot of character,” says Roux. “It’s classically formatted, just with a different title.”

Emily Roux and Diego Ferrari
Emily Roux and Diego Ferrari

The celeriac ‘cacio e pepe’ (pictured top) has become something of a signature dish. Celeriac is cut into thin, tagliatelle-like strips with a mandolin, cooked in water, paired with a sauce of butter, Pecorino and Parmesan, as with the traditional Italian pasta dish, and finished with a lot of black pepper and balsamic.

“This reflects what we said in the beginning – we want to do something simple with good quality ingredients. We take a really nice aged Pecorino, a really nice aged Parmesan, and that makes the difference in a simple dish,” Ferrari says.

Similarly, the acquarello risotto uses a seven-year aged risotto rice from Piedmont, finished with Parmesan, butter, a reduced port sauce, salted almond praline and black Parmesan crumble. “We cook with water only to keep the taste of rice and Parmesan,” he says.

Apple rose
Apple rose

It’s early days yet; the 62-cover restaurant is doing around 80-85 covers on weekends, supported by a brigade of seven in the kitchen and six front of house staff. But they already have a strong neighbourhood following (“we joke that everybody says they ‘live around the corner’ – how many corners are there?” says Roux) and they are looking to bring in more guests for lunch.

“I’m really happy with what we’ve achieved and proud of what we’ve done so far,” she adds. “We’re definitely working hard at it, so I’m not sure we’d open another one tomorrow – maybe in five or 10 years’ time, who knows? But for now, we’re very happy concentrating on this one.”

Pigeon, roquette condiment, turnips, cherries
Pigeon, roquette condiment, turnips, cherries

From the menu
Curious
Braised leek and mushroom tart, guanciale, thyme vinaigrette £11
Confit chicken oyster, crispy skin, smoked parsnip purée, reduced jus £14

Subtle
Celeriac ‘cacio e pepe’ with extra-aged balsamic vinegar £18

Delicate
Steamed turbot, roast cauliflower, amaranth, parsley oil £31.50

Robust
Slow-cooked ox cheek ravioli, kabocha pumpkin, flower sprout, barbucine £24

Greedy
Chocolate cake, pecan praline, salted caramel sauce, mascarpone ice-cream £11

Caractère, 209 Westbourne Park Road, London W11 1EA
020 8181 3850
www.caractererestaurant.com

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