Looking for restaurants in Notting Hill? Read our review of French and Italian restaurant, Caractère, and check out more suggestions for eating in Notting Hill in London here.
Caractère in a nutshell: The debut modern French/Italian restaurant from married culinary couple Emily Roux and Diego Ferrari, in the heart of London’s fine-dining territory.
Not 20-something Emily, which may surprise some, despite her culinary heritage (her dad is Michel Roux Jr) and training under Alain Ducasse. She’s front of house (and photographer, too). Instead Diego, previously head chef of Le Gavroche, heads up the pass, while both work on the menu.
There are influences from both their ’hoods, namely France and Italy, and an unconventional approach to menu writing, grouping sections as character traits, ‘curious’, ‘subtle’, ‘delicate’, ‘robust’, ‘strong’ and ‘greedy’. It might baffle some – because who really wants to have another menu explained before you’re able to order – but the resulting dishes stand up. Another, this time welcome, menu quirk, is the ability to curate your own tasting menu – choosing a dish from each trait for £78.
What’s the vibe?
Surprisingly, perhaps, the room is a millennial interpretation of ‘neutral luxe’, with pink and emerald velvet chairs, marble-topped, brass-bottomed clothless tables, exposed brick walls, sputnik ball chandeliers, and darkly varnished wooden floors. It’s a little chilly and pretty empty when we arrive, but things soon warm up as the crowds move in.
What’s the food like?
Again surprisingly, it’s some of the more veg-centric dishes that wow the most. Celeriac cacio e pepe with aged (25 years, no less) balsamic vinegar steals the night early on. Ticking multiple trend boxes without being gimmicky – the al dente root added an earthiness we didn’t know such a classic needed. But it, alongside its generous slick of butter, nutty cheese and black pepper, and sweet and sour drizzle, was a dazzler. (Unlike the bourbon choccy biscuit with sardine butter, which was proffered at the start as one of a trio of snacks.)
Seared cod with crispy potatoes (aka crisps) draped in lardo and paired with cavolo nero and rich beurre blanc is exactly what you want to eat. Another, a simple salad of stichelton and baby leaves, served theatrically at the table from a ripe wheel with seeded crispbreads and fruits, is a contender for one of London’s best cheese courses. Chocolate cake collapses into a decadent puddle, made murkier and even more ‘greedy’ thanks to salted caramel, mascarpone ice cream and pecan praline.
There’s clear, classically trained skill here – jus are intense and glossy, fish nudges perfectly into flakes, roasted lamb blushes would put Tess of the d’Urbervilles to shame, apples are peeled into intricate roses, and mille-feuille shatters into moreish sweet shards. Sometimes, though, the collision of the two culinary greats – French and Italian – feels a tad too rich. But that, of course, is where a wine flight comes in handy – to balance and mediate.
And the drinks?
The drinks list is rather vast for what you might consider a modern casual take on fine dining, with wines exclusively French and Italian. They’re well matched to the food, though – a Bucci Classico 2016 worked wonders with the celeriac cacio e pepe.
olive tip: Sit away from the door to avoid any drafts and don’t skip the ‘strong’ cheese course!
Caractère, 209 Westbourne Park Road, London W11 1EA
Words by Laura Rowe