By Meghan Daniel
Rather than categorizing their roast rack of Herdwick lamb under “entrée” or their choux with hazelnut praline and crème anglaise under “dessert,” the menu at Emily Roux and Diego Ferrari’s Caractère of Notting Hill invites diners to explore a non-traditional presentation of dishes. The lamb, a hefty meat and potatoes dish, is listed under Robust, while the latter, a sweet pastry with praline and custard, is listed under Greedy; and quite honestly, if French pastries are greedy, we don’t want to be generous.
Roux says of Caractère’s approach to the menu’s organization, “The character traits used to describe the dishes are quirky and characterful, describing not only the food but also both our personalities.”
“Quirky and characterful” are fitting for the restaurant’s chic location. Popularized by the 1999 film of the same name starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, Notting Hill is an amalgam of London’s posh and eccentric: a hub for socialites, shoppers and diners. Caractere, its name an homage to the French word which translates to “character,” is well-positioned to become a Notting Hill icon. The eatery’s apt name bespeaks its quintessential blend of casual, contemporary and comfortable.
Emily Roux , the daughter and granddaughter of renowned Michelin star chefs Michel Roux, Jr. and Albert Roux, respectively, opened Caractere with husband Diego Ferrari in October 2018. A blend of French and Italian heritage is manifested in the lunch and dinner menus boasting a range of dishes—from an Acquarello risotto made with Carnaroli rice aged for seven years to grilled Monkfish, a common staple in French cuisine. The majority of the ingredients are sourced in the UK from Scotland to Cornwall; others, such as balsamic vinegar, pecorino and parmigiana, are directly imported from Italy.
Though the pair are both experienced chefs with more than 20 years of culinary training between them, they have chosen to follow the adage,
“There’s only room for one chef in the kitchen.” While Ferrari oversees the orchestration of the Kitchen, Roux manages the front of the house, an easy decision, she says, and “incredibly rewarding” due to the immediate feedback she receives from restaurant patrons. Of the pair’s respective responsibilities in the restaurant, Roux said, “Diego is my eyes and palate in the kitchen, and I am his in the dining room.”
Roux, Ferrari and the rest of the Caractère team use both clientele response and seasonality to amend the menu so that it accurately reflects the meeting point between the intentions of the restaurateurs and the desires of its patrons. One of Roux’s long-time favorites on the menu is the celeriac cacio e pepe, which Ferrari has been making for Roux for years. She calls it her “desert island dish.”
To get the entire dining experience, Caractère offers a tasting menu option for lunch. For £78.00, diners select a dish from each “character trait.” There is also an option to add wine pairings to each dish for an additional cost of £72.00. In addition, there is the “Spontaneous Lunch Menu,” which consists of a starter, entree and dessert for £39.00.
To complement the fare, Caractère offers an extensive wine selection of around 150 bottles from France and Italy. Most are sold by the bottle, ranging from £33.00 to £640.00, to satisfy both the amateur and the well-versed connoisseur. Of the selection, Roux says, “Very much like the food menu, wehave created a sensible wine list with bottles we like or would like to drink.” Since its opening, Romeo Bisacchi has served as the sommelier for Caractère.
The dining room features bare, sand-colored brick walls contrasted by plush red and green velvet chairs. Statement lighting and gold- rimmed, floor-length mirrors make up the extent of the décor, demonstrating the effectiveness of a “less is more” approach.
The entire restaurant, which seats 62, can be booked for special events for either lunch or dinner. Whether you’re in the area and looking to stop by or designing a trip around a meal at Caractère, reservations are recommended. When in Notting Hill, look for the seafoam green building with brushed gold lettering on the corner of Ledbury and Westbourne Park Road.
Editor’s Note: For more information or to book a reservation please visit caractererestaurant.com