Emily Roux tells customers Caractère is 'not a Roux restaurant'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Emily Roux and Diego Ferrari are the joint chef owners of Caractère. 

They opened the Notting Hill restaurant last year - after almost two years of preparation - with a concept menu reflecting their French and Italian origins. 

We caught up with them to talk about the influential figures that set them on the path to success, the implications of owning a restaurant as a married couple, and what it means to be the youngest chef in a family of gastronomes. 

Both Diego and Emily started working in kitchens from a young age - though technically speaking only Diego was doing so in a professional capacity. 

"It was near Milan, in a little trattoria serving very simple food – pasta, meat, fish – really simple," he said.

Meanwhile, Emily voluntarily spent her Saturday nights at Le Gavroche. "I was about 12, 13, they would put me in a corner and I peeled vegetables for four hours straight."

"I just loved the camaraderie and the team." 

Both of them knew they wanted to be chefs from the get go, and they set out to learn from the best. 

Diego spent four years working for Davide Oldani and ten for Alain Ducasse; Emily went to l'Institut Paul Bocuse, then worked for Frédéric Vardon at Le39V, for Akrame Benallal at Akrame and took on a pastry chef role at the Louis XV in Monaco, where she met Diego.

Each of these experiences taught them invaluable lessons.

Ducasse taught Diego "rigour and organisation" as well as how to work as part of a large team, while Emily's experience in the pastry section showed her what can be achieved with "precision beyond belief." 

"[At the Louis XV], it’s the best quality products that you could ever find, price is not an issue. That’s in itself amazing and probably something that you see very rarely in other restaurants." 

With Akrame, Emily learnt to think on her feet. 

"[He's] such a character, in the best way possible, he’s extremely creative, he’s extremely fun, he’s very spare of the moment, so he would come in one morning and he’d say: ‘what do we have in the fridge’ and we’d be like, ‘are we changing menu today? Wasn’t quite aware of this’ and he was like ‘yeah, we’re changing menu’ and it was literally 10:30." 

"So we’d bring out whatever was in the fridge and you’d just create something new."

When they moved to London, Diego worked at Le Gavroche as head chef while they formulated the plan for their own restaurant. 

At Caractère, in order to have a clear grasp on the business, Diego mans the pass while Emily deals with everything front of house - though is still heavily involved in dish development and menu design.

"I suppose some days I miss [being in the kitchen,] but if there’s peas to peel or if there’s lots of mushrooms to wash, he’ll call me," she joked. 

"Subtle:" Celeriac “cacio e pepe” with extra-aged balsamic vinegar
"Subtle": Celeriac “cacio e pepe” with extra-aged balsamic vinegar

And while they admit that it's not always easy to keep their personal and professional lives separate, Diego says they make it a priority.

"We have to separate the two things, I think, so when we close the door at night, we try to speak about something else.

"We have to focus on our own things and not on the restaurant twenty four hours a day." 

No matter their daily activities, both are driven by a longstanding love of food. 

While Diego's earliest recollections are (unsurprisingly) of eating his mother's pasta, Emily said she was always an avid eater.

"There’s pictures of me eating snails at the age of three; oysters, I used to eat everything." 

Equipment Emily and Diego can't live without 

The restaurant, with its modern take on Italian and French classics, has widely been lauded a success, winning the Top Newcomer award at Harden's London Restaurant Awards 2019.

But of course any venture involving a Roux child - while it may bring a fair share of customers through the door - would always come with expectations on the customers' part.  

"There have been a few that have come here and who’ve been a little bit disappointed because they thought they were going to walk into a mini Gavroche. 

"That’s why we wanted to make it so different; the colours are extremely different, the menu is completely different, the price point – I mean we’ve tried to be different in every single way possible so there was no possible confusion. You’re nowhere near Gavroche and that this is not a Roux restaurant."

"That being said it’s very rare that people are really not happy and the very few customers that we’ve had, I’ve gone to talk to them and explained that that style of cooking is not really us and that this is very much our own thing and that, essentially, I’m married and my name isn’t Roux anymore, so at some point they have to detach from that." 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 14th November 2019

Emily Roux tells customers Caractère is 'not a Roux restaurant'