Hot table – Caractère
We have lunch at Emily Roux’s restaurant, Caractère, on one of the gloriously sunny October days within the first week of its opening. Expectations are high – with Emily’s name comes great promise (and for her, no doubt, pressure). Her debut venture is a collaboration with husband Diego Ferrari, who she met while training in Monaco at Alain Ducasse’s Le Louis XV.
It’s actually Diego doing the cooking, with Emily focusing on front of house, but the menu has been designed and tested by both; perfectly blending their Italian and French culinary roots and focusing on different subtleties of flavour.
The décor is simple and chic: marble tables, velvet-upholstered chairs and exposed brickwork are offset by cleverly placed gold-mirrored panelling and statement light fittings. With the autumn sunshine flooding through the large windows, everything gleams with possibility. The friendly front of house team talk us through the menu, which is divided into six sections varying in flavour intensity. First up, though, a platter of glorious canapés – the playful savoury Bourbon biscuit with sardine filling wins top marks for presentation.
We start in earnest with cacio e pepe. Emily has told us that her husband’s take on this classic dish would be her last meal on Earth, so there’s no way we’d miss it. It is served here with ribbons of celeriac in place of pasta, and is excellent. As are the scallops we choose to accompany it. For mains, we opt for grilled monkfish, which comes served in a delicate raw citrus and aniseed dressing, and is exquisite. In contrast, ras el hanout gives the rack of lamb a bold and punchy flavour. Each and every dish is matched with its own wine, all passionately introduced by the knowledgeable sommelier.
Having abstained from eating cheese for a month, the sight of the vast round of Stichelton being wheeled up to a neighbouring table is irresistible, so we opt to share the cheese course, and go halves on the chocolate cake, which is, apparently, already a firm favourite with diners. It is indeed excellent, but almost finishes us off in all of its glorious gooiness.
We vow that we will not eat for the rest of the day, but somehow succumb to the chocolate pizza, which comes at petit four time with our fresh mint tea. And we’re glad we made the space: it is curiously savoury yet sweet and rounds off the meal in the best possible way. The restaurant and its team certainly seem to have character in spades. We can’t wait to see how they fare.