The word character has a variety of meanings. It can refer to an agglomeration of traits by which we define the essence of a person, artefact or organisation. Or it can be about a certain type of strength…Caractère is a new restaurant in Notting Hill that seems to me to be trying to redefine the notion of ‘bourgeois’ cuisine with an emphasis on Italo-French cuisine in a stylishly casual setting. Owned by Emily Roux, chef and daughter of Michel Roux Jr., and her partner Milanese chef Diego Ferrari, who worked with Alain Ducasse before spending three years as Head Chef of Le Gavroche. With that kind of form I’m expecting something special and am delighted to have been asked to review.Emily describes the restaurant as the ‘sort of place we wanted to eat in ourselves’ and Caractère is clearly a passion project for the couple. With its exposed wooden beams and brickwork and modern-retro light fittings the space has the feel of a Brasserie De Luxe with a contemporary twist and despite being the new kid on the block it has a certain timeless quality.The menu is delineated by six character ‘traits’: Curious, Subtle, Delicate, Robust, Strong and Greedy, in a fun play on the restaurant’s name; but the amuse-bouche should really have come under the heading of intriguing! Possibly referencing the proprietor’s pan-European heritage a Bourbon biscuit with sardine butter surprised with the chocolate bringing out the sweetness of the fish; and I’m always happy to see a Tigella, traditional disc shaped stuffed bread from the chestnut forests of the Apennine mountains in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, here stuffed with a vegetal parsley condiment; last but not least was a super-crispy polenta crisp topped with a subtle sliver of smoked ricotta.After some excellent bread and butter we started drinking! Our glass of Réserve Mont-Redon 2016 Côtes du Rhône Abeille-Fabre was full-bodied and bursting with blackberry flavour.It was a great match with our ‘subtle’ stunningly plated ‘Acquarello’ risotto – made with the highly nutritious aged Acquarello Carnaroli rice, cooked in water and not stock, flavoured with aged Parmesan and pimped up with a Marsala reduction, pink peppercorns, and a black carbon-infused Parmesan crumble. The water based cooking technique gave it a lightness of flavour highlighting the cheese and combined with the al dente rice it created an irresistible mouthful of pleasure.Celeriac is one of the veg du jour and in our second ‘subtle’ starter silky yet crunchy ‘lasagna’ sheets of the humble root were served “cacio e Pepe” style with splashes of extra-aged balsamic vinegar adding a luxuriant richness.Moving on to a light, peppery and intense glass of Les Montées, Côtes de Saint Lay, Pinot Noir, Côtes de la Charité 2015 we had another beautiful looking dish chosen from the three ‘delicate’ fish dishes- perfectly cooked and delicately flavoured steamed turbot accompanied by roast cauliflower, amaranth and dressed with parsley oil. This was a really well-balanced plate of food that tasted as good as it looked!Grilled monkfish was tender and with its more robust flavour was well served by the sprouting broccoli, piquillos and cockle jus accompaniments.At Caractère desserts come under the heading ‘greedy’. Fortunately so do I…the crisp Arlettes mille-feuille were softened by delicate, pink Yorkshire rhubarb and a hint of sweetness from dollops of diplomat cream – a lighter version of Crème Pâtissière with rhubarb sorbet adding a bit of mild astringency on the side.
The chocolate cake with hazelnut praline, vanilla and crème Anglaise simply tastes as good it looks! Rich and intense…that’s what I like…I mean the cake…With a soothing coffee we were presented with a light and fluffy brioche crème fraiche – a perfect way to end a great meal.There are a few people in the restaurant trade for whom an understanding of hospitality is etched into their DNA. For Emily and Diego the art and science of feeding people exceptionally well and giving them that glow of happiness which a good meal provides seems effortless. But of course a lot of work goes into that process which in turn shows …great character.It’s worth a trip to visit Caractère – you’ll enjoy it.
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