Emily Roux and Diego Ferrari

Emily Roux and Diego Ferrari

Emily Roux and Diego Ferrari

After gaining experience in some of the most acclaimed kitchens in Europe, Emily Roux and Diego Ferrari decided to start a journey of their own by opening the refreshingly relaxed Caractère in Notting Hill, and they haven’t looked back since.

In any industry there are certain surnames which demand attention, but in the world of food, few carry more expectation than that of Emily Roux. Daughter of Michel Roux Jr and granddaughter of Albert – both chefs who’ve not just been at the helm of one of the country’s most legendary restaurants but who over the years have helped redefine Britain’s culinary scene – it would have been easy for Emily to dedicate her time to the family’s existing restaurants. Instead, after meeting her now-husband and fellow chef Diego Ferrari, they decided to do their own thing and open Caractère – a modern yet casual restaurant in Notting Hill serving dishes inspired by both Emily’s French and Diego’s Italian heritage.

Born and raised in London, Emily practically grew up in the kitchen at her father’s restaurant Le Gavroche, where she would closely watch the chefs at work. ‘I just always loved the ambience of a kitchen,’ she explains. ‘From when I was about fourteen, I would sit in the corner of my dad’s restaurant peeling mountains of potatoes and I’d just be looking on from the side admiring what all the chefs were doing. That was when I started to realise that cooking was for me and that I wanted to pursue it further.’

Meanwhile, over in Italy, a thirteen-year-old Diego was attending hospitality school and working at a small local trattoria in the evenings and weekends, learning the basics of Italian cookery. Soon after finishing school, he found himself working at the Michelin-starred d’O for Davide Oldani who then sent Diego to Paris to work for Alain Ducasse. By that time, Emily had made her way over to Lyon to study for three years at highly regarded culinary school Institut Paul Bocuse – a time which she looks back at fondly. ‘It was just amazing to be surrounded by people who have the same passion,’ she says. ‘Even in the dorms what was happening food-wise was amazing. Everyone would get together to talk about recipes and there were cookbooks everywhere. I just felt totally at home.’

After finishing college and completing a six-month placement in Paris, Emily was offered a full-time position at Alain Ducasse’s three-Michelin-starred Le Louis XV in Monaco where she first met Diego, who was also working in the kitchen. However, having both started to get restless in Monaco, just a year later they took the decision to move to Paris together, where Diego had been offered a role as sous chef. For three years they both gained further experience working in Michelin-starred kitchens (Diego at Alain Ducasse’s Plaza Athénée and Le Meurice; Emily at Le 39V under Frédéric Vardon and then at Akrame), while starting to dream up plans for Caractère.

Eventually, it was time for them to head to London to begin making these dreams a reality. ‘I think we’d just had enough of Paris by that point,’ explains Emily. ‘After three years in the city there were alarm bells going off in both of our heads saying that it was time to get the ball rolling with our own restaurant.’ While plans for Caractére started to come together, Diego took up the position of head chef at Le Gavroche – an important time for him in more than one sense. ‘At that point I didn’t speak any English at all,’ says Diego. ‘So it was nice to be in a French restaurant where there were quite a few Italians as well. It kind of gave me that middle ground. However, working at Le Gavroche also meant that I got to know all the suppliers and build the connections you need in a high-end restaurant.’

Over the course of the next three years, as well as getting married, the couple found a former pub in the heart of Notting Hill which they would transform into a relaxed neighbourhood site. The aim was never to try and replicate the fine dining style of the restaurants associated with the Roux dynasty, but rather to create somewhere more accessible. ‘We always said that we wanted to make a restaurant that we would want to eat at on a regular basis,’ says Emily. ‘We didn’t want it to be super high-end and only be somewhere you ate at once a year for that exclusive meal. The focus is on great food and friendly service without it being too fancy.’

Caractère finally opened its doors in 2018, serving a menu taking influence from Diego and Emily’s time spent in both Italy and France. ‘These places are part of our character,’ Diego says with a smile. ‘I’ve spent ten years of my life in France but I’ll never forget where I came from. Italian cuisine is all about sharing and there tends to be a more relaxed ambience, whereas in France there’s a little more etiquette and everything’s a bit stricter. At Caractère we try to take the best elements of both cuisines and put them together.’

As a brand-new restaurant in a relatively residential area, the duo started off attracting as many people as possible with a simpler menu before allowing Caratère’s food to develop and evolve. ‘When we look back now at some of the plates we did when we first opened, we’re like ‘wow, we did that?’,’ laughs Emily. ‘It was very simple and the plates were a lot less eye-catching but it was necessary at the time. None of the neighbours knew what to expect and there were a lot of curious people opening the doors, so we just had to show them that we were actually doing really good food, and have built and built since then.’

Since 2018, things have not only continued to blossom at Caractère, which now appears in the Michelin guide, has two AA rosettes to its name and still serves to packed dining rooms, but the couple also now have a son, born during the first coronavirus lockdown. Diego and Emily could very easily have spent their careers working in and running already established restaurants within the wider Roux portfolio but were instead determined to make a name for themselves through their own project. Going on the success of Caractère so far, the risk they took has definitely paid off and the future is bright for these two chefs.