The couple's stated ambition is to offer a more informal and contemporary take on gastronomy. And it succeeds, yet is a little underwhelming. The room is so gorgeous it could star in an interiors magazine. It is a modish blend of velvety, dusky pink chairs and green banquettes set at marbled tables with exposed brick walls and spectacular lighting. The tableware is elegant too, especially the miniature ceramic bread board and butter knife that stands up to attention. However, though the food is cooked with great care and expertise, it doesn't sing as outstanding and the a la carte pricing is on a par with restaurants of serious Michelin intent. The lunch and dinner tasting menus however, do provide striking value, so perhaps this is an attempt to steer most diners towards these.
The novelty of dividing the menu into character themes (curious, delicate, robust, strong (cheese course) and greedy – why should we be made to feel guilty about dessert?) doesn't add a great deal beyond encouraging diners to order one of each. Celeriac cacio e pepe has become the instagram signature dish and although it is delicious with a perfectly emulsified pecornino rich sauce and drops of properly vintage balsamic vinegar added at the table, it just doesn't say 'wow'. Likewise, roast diver scallops are perfect with salsify purée, mustard and beurre blanc, though not memorably amazing. The standout dish was a pretty arrangement of wild mushrooms with leeks, guincale and thyme vinaigrette, deeply bosky yet delicate. A winner.
Venison ravioli with chestnuts and pumpkin makes for a sybarritc combination of textrue and flavour, though a few more ravioli for a main dish would have better justified the price tag.
Warm chocolate cake with pecan praline and salted caramel sauce is a superb twist to what's become the rather cliche favourite dessert, made with great finesse as is the exquisite apple tart. The meal certainly ended on a high.
The wine list is exclusively French and Italian reflecting Roux and Ferrari’s family heritage, there are some interesting wines under £40 though most are priced for banker's salaries and focus on the big prices.
With the, admittedly far pricer, The Ledbury and Core by Clare Smyth, a short walk away, there's plenty of competition for sophisticated contemporary gastronomy in the vicinity. Perhaps Caractère needs to differentiate by reconsidering its pricing to make it even more alluring as a place to return to regularly rather than being reserved for more special treats.
'Spontaneous lunch': 3 courses with coffee and water £39
Dinner: £79 for five course. £72 for wine pairing menu
|Caractère Restaurant, Notting Hill
|Notting Hill Gate (underground)