This restaurant opened in October 2018, a venture from husband and wife team Emily Roux and Diego Ferrari. Both are chefs by training, Emily being the daughter of Michel Roux Junior, but Diego is the one running the kitchen here. Both trained at Le Gavroche, Mr Ferrari having been head chef there for three years under executive chef Rachel Humphrey, who in turn works for chef/patron Michel Roux Junior. Prior to that Mr Ferrari trained in Paris, including working for Alain Ducasse. The front of house at opening was being run by another Gavroche veteran, Eugenio Simonelli.
The wine list was quite extensive, with 245 references, 58% French and 42% Italian. Within Italy the coverage was deepest in Piedmont and Tuscany, followed by Sicily and the northern growing regions such as Friuli. The list started at £30 and rising to £640, with a median price of £75. The average markup was 2.5 times retail price, which is pretty fair for London. Sample references were Morellini di Scansano Fattoria dei Barbi 2015 at £35 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £17, Vincent Pinard Harmonie Sancerreat £60 compared to its retail price of £36, and Chardonnay “Bussiador” Poderi Aldo Conterno 2014 at £98 for a wine that will set you back £56 in the high street. For those with the means there was Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Fossacolle 2012 at £185 compared to its retail price of £91, and Barolo Riserva 10 Anni Fossati Case Nere Roberto Voerzio 2004 at £405 for a wine whose current market value is £215. There were a few oddities in the pricing. E.Guigal’s Saint-Joseph Lieu-Dit 2016 was priced at £88 for a wine that retails at £33, but the same maker’s costlier Hermitage 2013 was £76 for a wine whose shop price is £51.
The menu had a la carte choices as well as tasting menu at £78. For reasons that elude me the dishes were grouped into sections labelled “curious” (starters), “subtle” (vegetables), "delicate" (fish), “robust" (meat), “strong” (a single choice of Stichelton cheese) and “greedy” (dessert). I don’t really know what this added, so for me it was just “puzzling”. A trio of nibbles began the meal. A Bourbon biscuit contained sardine butter and tasted exactly of what it said that it was. I am not entirely sure that this idea really worked, but it was competently executed. Cured stone bass with zest of lime on a toast base was better, the fish good and the lime bringing the right level of freshness. A sort of bread pancake had a mackerel filling which worked nicely (14/20 nibbles). Bread was from Boulangerie de Paris in Uxbridge, which is quite a good bakery given its industrial scale operation.
Risotto used Acquarello, a brand of aged carnaroli rice, which is pretty much top of the range. This had black crumble of reduced port and Parmesan, and also blobs of almond praline. The Parmesan was a lovely foil for the rice, which had very good texture. This didn’t look pretty on the plate, but the texture was excellent (15/20). Cacio e pepe (“cheese and pepper”) is a classic Roman pasta dish with Pecorino cheese and black pepper. A nod to this dish was next, here with thinly sliced celeriac in the place of pasta, the dish finished with 25-year-old Balsamic vinegar from Modena. This had a good kick of pepper and had excellent texture, the earthy celeriac working well with the sweet Balsamic (15/20).
Turbot from a 4kg fish had plenty of flavour and was superbly cooked. This came with delicate smoked cauliflower, seaweed and caper condiment and a quite deeply flavoured red wine sauce. This was an excellent dish, the flavours harmonious and the main element precisely executed (easily 15/20). Braised venison ravioli came with Kabocha pumpkin (a Japanese winter squash), chestnuts, braised cabbage and juniper jus. The pasta had good texture and the meat had plenty of flavour. Chestnuts can often end up hard and disappointing, but these were accurately cooked and had good earthy flavour, the slightly sweet quash being an interesting foil for the meat. I thought the cabbage was skilfully cooked too, the juniper adding a slightly smoky note. This was a very successful dish, the flavours marrying well and the technical execution spot on (16/20).
An apple was shaped into a rose, which was quite attractive, flavoured with cinnamon and served on a sable Breton biscuit base with a topping of apple puree and a side accompaniment of green apple sorbet. The sorbet was excellent, but the biscuit had become rather soggy from the puree. The carved apple was pretty but the Royal Gala apples used were somewhat flavourless, and would surely have been better if it instead the kitchen had used an English apple like Cox’s Orange Pippin, which were at their peak at this time (14/20). Chocolate fondant came with pecan praline, salted caramel sauce and Mascarpone cream cheese ice cream. This worked well, the chocolate cake rich and with a liquid centre, the ice cream a good balance for it (15/20). Coffee was, sadly, from Musetti. It tasted to me, as usual with this brand, a bitter and disappointing experience, like watching the England middle order bat in a Test match. This is an area that can be improved.
Service was very good throughout the evening. The bill came to £123 per person with pre-dinner drinks and a bottle of the excellent Guigal Hermitage 2013. If you shared a modest bottle of wine then three courses, coffee and water would come to about £85 per person. Overall I was quite impressed with Caractere. This was only the fourth week of operation yet things were going quite smoothly at a completely full service. This is one of the best London restaurant openings for some time.
Further reviews: 21st Aug 2019