Last month Emily Roux and Diego Ferrari invited a group of chefs to a lunch in association with Udale Speciality Foods, at their first solo venture, Caractère in London’s Notting Hill. James Stagg went along
Emily Roux and Diego Ferrari only opened Caractère in October, but the pair have already developed dishes that are fast becoming classics in their own right.
The husband-and-wife team have combined their love of classic French and Italian cuisine to create an experience that is as special as you would expect from chefs who have trained with the very best. They met while in the kitchen at Alain Ducasse’s three-Michelin-starred Louis XV in Monaco and, after a stint in Paris, returned to settle in London, with Ferrari joining Le Gavroche and Roux working in the family’s catering business.
Upon opening Caractère in Notting Hill, London, last year, they had to split responsibilities to make the restaurant work, with Roux taking charge of front of house and Ferrari leading the kitchen brigade. They’re a formidable partnership, and one that attracted a troop of chefs to the latest Chef Eats Out event.
Welcoming the chefs on a warm summer’s day in west London, Emily Roux said that she and Ferrari had always dreamed of their own restaurant: “As chefs you always want your own place to create your own experience. So we’re really proud of what we’ve achieved so far,” she said.
“The menu today is very special for us as we’ve chosen each dish for a particular reason. The opening dish was one of the first dishes that we included on the menu and, of course, the celeriac cacio e pepe has become our signature dish.”
Before the meal started in earnest, the 50 diners were treated to canapés, including gnocco fritto with melted Red Leicester and black pepper, and a wafer of smoked cod roe with piment d’espelette and lemon zest. Both were delicate yet punchy mouthfuls, setting the tone for the dishes to come. It was accompanied by a surprisingly crisp and precise prosecco from Dal Bello, supplied by Justerini & Brooks. The dry fizz with a fine mousse paired perfectly with the cheese and cod roe snacks.
Following the welcome snacks was a delicate, summery dish of mackerel with roast Gem lettuce, beetroot, parsley condiment and black cardamom. Roux explained that the mackerel fillets were lightly marinated in a mix of salt, sugar and pepper, which is rinsed and removed before the fish is lightly blowtorched on the skin side and seasoned with olive oil and lemon. It was served with beetroot that had been pickled, shaved and roasted along with clotted cream and a parsley condiment – like a pesto made of parsley, shallots, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.
Lexington chef development manager Jon Lilley said that it was a clean dish with a perfect marriage of flavours. He added: “The garnish was very simple and really helped cut through the mackerel with the sourness in the beetroot. You can just detect the black cardamom too, which lends a nice delicate note.”
Andrew Nutter from Nutters in Rochdale said that the mackerel was a vibrant dish. “It was understated, but all the flavours are there and really come together,” he added. “You can see why this restaurant has captured the imagination of the neighbourhood.”
Next came the dish that has quickly become the restaurant’s signature dish, the celeriac cacio e pepe. It features the cheese and pepper in the classic Roman pasta dish, but without the pasta, which is replaced with celeriac.
The creativity of using celeriac, which is blanched having first been through a Japanese mandolin to resemble fresh tagliatelle in shape and texture, won universal praise.
Lexington chef-director Rob Kirby enthused: “Any chef that puts food on a plate that’s all one colour with nothing else is very confident. But the dish absolutely delivered in every way: taste, texture and full of flavour, perfectly seasoned. It’s a very moreish dish.”
Craft Guild of Chefs chief executive Andrew Green was equally impressed. “The appearance was obviously wonderful, but it just felt so fresh and creative – it was a joy,” he said. “It has natural colour and a natural taste and, with few other ingredients, the celeriac shines through. The tradition and simplicity of the dish is observed, while delivering a fantastic experience.”
What’s more, it didn’t go unnoticed that the substitution of pasta for celeriac made it accessible for those with gluten-free diets too. Nutter added: “To see someone who’s gluten free enjoying it with such enthusiasm was wonderful.”
The celeriac was followed by Udale’s dry-aged duck, served with glazed potatoes, turnips and duck jus. “The duck was on our menu until last month and we’ve had people return to ask where it’s gone,” said Roux. “But we keep changing our menu, so it’ll come back, no doubt.”
Green described the duck as sublime. “For me it was perfect, providing that real flavour,” he said. “The whole dish with the jus and the vegetables worked perfectly. The cooking isn’t overcomplicated, but what they do well is choose a few ingredients and treat them properly. That’s the key of any good cooking.”
The duck is pan-roasted before being finished in the oven and served pink. Its cooking certainly impressed. Vincent Wooley from Pantry Fine Foods in Newmarket explained: “The duck had been cooked well and rested well. It was delicious. Even down to the right temperature. If you leave duck too long it toughens up again, but here they got it absolutely spot on.”
To finish, guests enjoyed a banana tarte tatin with hazelnut praline, the Balvenie Doublewood whisky ice-cream and a glass of 12-year-old the Balvenie Doublewood.
“The tarte tatin has worked really well on the menu,” added Roux. “The crunch and crispiness is great, and banana and whisky is an enduring combination.” Much like Roux and Ferrari.
A message from our sponsor
It was fantastic to experience Diego Ferrari’s elegant cooking at his and Emily Roux’s restaurant Caractère. The dishes their talented team produce are extremely refined, with the flavours of each ingredient really shining through. It’s no wonder that the restaurant has already received such critical acclaim.
We are delighted to join forces with The Caterer to sponsor Chef Eats Out, as it gives chefs a chance to get an insight into the cooking of chefs of the calibre of Ferrari and Roux.
The roast dry-aged duck, glazed potatoes, turnips and duck jus showcased our dry-aged duck wonderfully. Like the meat and poultry we supply, the duck is aged in our Himalayan salt chambers, providing a real point of difference for chefs looking to create exceptional dishes.
• Canapés: gnocco fritto with melted Red Leicester and black pepper, and wafer of smoked cod roe with piment d’espelette and lemon zest
• Marinated and seared mackerel, roast Gem lettuce, beetroot, parsley condiment, black cardamom
• Celeriac “cacio e pepe”
• Roast dry-aged duck, glazed potatoes, turnips, duck jus
• Banana tarte tatin, hazelnut praline, the Balvenie Doublewood whisky ice-cream
• Coffee and petits fours
The wines were chosen with the help of wine merchant Justerini & Brooks.
Prosecco Spumante Brut, Treviso DOC, Dal Bello Brut
Brilliant appearance, with a pale yellow colour and a nice, persistent mousse. It has delicate aromas of green apple and white flowers. A dry wine that is ideal as an apéritif or with fish starters.
Bourgogne Aligoté, Joseph Drouhin, 2017
A wine that is always fresh and aromatic. On the nose, there are slightly acidic aromas of fresh grape. Fresh on the palate, sometimes with a pleasant ‘gunflint’ note. Good balance between softness and acidity.
Justerini & Brooks. 61 Reserve Claret, NV
Lots of upfront fruit, Bordeaux character and juicy, fruit-coated tannins. It is a wine to drink and enjoy young, but has all the structure and class to age and develop for five to eight years.
Chef Eats Out at Galvin at Windows
Book your place at the next Chef Eats Out on 3 September here