At Emily Roux and Diego Ferrari’s debut venture in Notting Hill, sommelier Romeo Bisacchi sums up the wine list: “We’ve got no Pétrus or Romanée-Conti, but we do have stuff you couldn’t find elsewhere”.
Previously Bumpkin, the romantico Caractère with brick walls and maps including Paris with the Seine picked in gold, is a petite amble down a mews from The Ledbury. It was opened by partners in life and business, Emily Roux, daughter of Michel Roux Jr. of Le Gavroche, and Diego Ferrari, who was Head Chef there for three years. As with dishes, the clean list by Romeo Bisacchi, who was born in Monaco and raised in Genoa, equitably honours the French and Italian heritages of Roux and Ferrari.
Before moving to London, Bisacchi worked at Florence’s grand dame, Enoteca Pinchiorri. He recalls owner, Giorgio Pinchiorri opening titan wines over staff dinners, “narrating, grandad-like, how he discovered Masetto, buying the first vintages…”
Rather than Prosecco, Bisacchi is proud to be London’s only restaurant pouring traditional method Trento, Ferrari Perlé Bianco Riserva by-the-glass (in John Jenkins glassware).
“I’m starting to understand what guests like and just added 40 labels,” says Bisacchi, whose restrained cellar, racked left to right “because that’s how you read,” is evenly priced, including a dainty Bourgogne Blanc from reputable Etienne Sauzet, “made with younger vines”, a reasonable maturing Cantemerle and winsomely meek Dolcettos and Barberas, plus starry Barolos and a Bordeaux impersonating Tuscan Cabernet Franc (Duemani). When explaining his list, Bisacchi mentioned he always suggests floral Arneis over arguably anodyne Gavi di Gavi.
“Ingredients move the balance,” says Bisacchi of wine matching with the unusually categorised menu where “Subtle” headlines vegetable-focused small plates, “Delicate” refers to fish mains, and “Greedy” leads on to puddings. Dishes may include scallop with hazelnut, and bringing bitterness, radicchio tardivo matched with Greco di Tufo “for freshness and minerality”. Indeed, Bisacchi’s favourite region is Campania, home to “perfect Greco di Tufo, Fiano di Avelino and Falanghina by Quintodecimo whose maker, Luigi Moi, worked in Burgundy for 25 years.” Herdwick rack of lamb with rainbow chard and Ratte potatoes, “produced by the sea hence salinity”, is finished with lamb jus. On that note, “jus” is a Gallic aspect enriching dishes, “giving an explosion of flavour,” says Bisacchi, who prescribes the lamb structure and spicy red fruit via Côtes du Rhône (Moncoeur, Jean-Louis Chave). With sweet Gorgonzola, Bisacchi introduces tea coloured Curatolo Arini Marsala (Pellegrino). Be sure to leave room for digestif, Bloomsbury Pastis magnifying star anise, cucumber and Sussex hops.
“You live it seven days a week,” says Bisacchi of his vocation. When not in Notting Hill, you may see him admiring stock at Hedonism before checking prices online – “the internet is moving wine prices,” he says.
Incidentally, with jollity, Caractère’s entirely Italian front-of-house, including Maître d, Eugenio Simonelli from Fiuggi, a town near Rome famed for its “miraculous” waters, lay trattoria-esque red checkered tablecloths for their own meals…