You don’t need an A level in French to work out that ‘caractère’ is the French word for ‘character’, though ‘famille’ might have been just as good a name for this first solo project from husband and wife Emily Roux and Diego Ferrari. Roux is the daughter of Michel Jnr and met Ferrari when he was head chef of her father’s restaurant, Le Gavroche. At Caractère, Roux is front of house, Ferrari in the kitchen.
The couple’s ambition was to open somewhere ‘casual and contemporary’. It is determinedly contemporary (the menu is divided into six character traits) but unless you spend all your time in Michelin-starred restaurants, not most people’s idea of casual, though it is certainly striking.
Velvety, dusky pink chairs are set at marble-topped tables in a brick-walled room, with herringbone on the floor, dramatic lighting on the ceiling and picture windows running down two sides. The tableware is notably thoughtful: elegant, slimline cutlery, a butter knife that stands up on its base and a miniature ceramic bread board for excellent butter are all covetable items to add to a Pinterest board for a foodie’s Christmas stocking.
We didn’t find the character theme added anything to negotiating the menu beyond dividing it into meat, fish and vegetable sections, but cooking as good as this doesn’t need any gimmicks. Cacio e pepe has strips of celeriac in place of strands of pasta acting as a subtly flavoured foil to a full-throttle Pecorino sauce, a few drops of intensely concentrated balsamic vinegar, added at the table, cutting through the richness (there is much finishing of dishes at the table).
The same balance of savoury and sharp worked equally well in a beautiful slice of roast wild duck breast sharing a plate with fondant chervil root and blackberries, though you don’t need to order such big flavours: roast diver scallops with salsify purée, mustard and beurre blanc and grilled monkfish with parsley root, grapefruit and aniseed sauce were both appreciated for a gentle lunch. To finish, we preferred a magnificent warm chocolate cake with pecan praline and salted caramel sauce to a rather virtuous-tasting ‘millefeuille’ made out of sliced fig.
An exclusively French and Italian wine list reflects Roux and Ferrari’s family heritage, and while a focus on big names and big prices from Piedmont and Tuscany, Burgundy and Bordeaux reflects local wallets, there are enough interesting wines under £40 to make for rewarding drinking for anyone not on a banker’s salary.
With The Ledbury almost next door, the recently closed Marianne down the road and Core by Clare Smyth a short walk away, Notting HiIl has a well-established appetite for sophisticated modern cooking served in a high-end setting. Judging by their assured opening weeks, Roux and Ferrari have passed their test of Caractere with flying colours.