Edinburgh’s restaurant scene has its fair share of Michelin-starred big hitters, but where the city really shines is in its quietly brilliant neighborhood eateries – and nowhere is this better exemplified than in Roberta Hall-McCarron’s The Little Chartroom.
While The Little Chartroom originally opened in 2018, since the September of last year it has been warming into its new home on Bonnington Road, just a few moments from the Water of Leith. Acting as one of the leading figures in the renaissance of Leith – a bustling waterside spot, known for its great food and vibrant atmosphere – the restaurant finds itself off the beaten tourist track, but trust us when we say the short journey out of central Edinburgh is worth it.
Calling The Little Chartroom a classic in the making would be a disservice to the reputation it has garnered – it’s a firmly established favorite among locals and visiting foodies alike, with a straightforward yet beautifully executed approach to not just food, but also the entire restaurant experience. Leith is well and truly on the culinary map.
Hall-McCarron’s culinary career is one of two halves, with the chef having worked at Dubai’s glitzy Burj Al Arab, before being drawn, as many are, back to Scotland. In Edinburgh, she worked at Michelin-starred The Kitchin, as well as The Castle Terrace, where she spent six years, three of which were as head chef.
By 2018, the talented chef was ready to go it alone and opened The Little Chartroom, which quickly became an Edinburgh favorite. In 2021, the restaurant outgrew its humble beginnings and moved to its current location. In the old space, Hall-McCarron, along with her husband Shaun McCarron, opened Eleanore – a chic wine bar positioning itself as a younger sibling to the more established original.
In 2020 and 2021, Hall-McCarron put her culinary skills to the test representing Scotland in BBC’s Great British Menu, where she reached the finals both years. Her food is assured and bold, with the chef clearly having tapped into the power of letting ingredients do the talking.
Lots of things set The Little Chartroom aside, and the concept of their menu is yet another. While sharing plates and the tasting menu reign supreme in most restaurants, here it’s a lot more straightforward with a small selection of homemade bread followed by a choice of three starters, three mains and three desserts. Easy, straightforward and fuss-free.
The dishes themselves showcase the very best of Scottish produce, with simple ingredients from the wild landscape artfully elevated to gourmet standards. As is standard, the menu adapts regularly and you’re unlikely to see the exact same dishes more than a few nights in a row.
In mid-summer, when Scotland’s bounty is at its most fruitful and ripe, the menu began with delicate crab agnolini bobbing in a clear tomato broth, flavorsome beyond its humble appearance. And, to soak up every drop of that broth is a slab of ultra-indulgent crab Thermidor toast.
There’s also a hearty plate of crispy lamb belly, sitting comfortably on a silky white bean stew. While some chefs might have seen a complete dish here, Hall-McCarron did not and smartly added a dollop of cutting soft cheese, and a nasturtium and radish salad to remind us that yes, this is a stew, but we are still in summer.
Mains kick off with sliced rump cap of beef, served sliced and rare. It’s melt-in-your-mouth delicious, as is the rich jus brimming with chunks of beef fat – vegans avert your eyes. On the side is vibrant and peppery watercress pureé, a crispy hashbrown, and, in true Scottish form, a hunk of haggis wrapped up in rainbow chard. Its all at once rich, playful and delicious.
The seafood main is equally as impressive, with gorgeously crispy plaice served on the bone in a creamy elderflower butter sauce with peas. Again, where another chef might have stopped, Hall-McCarron continues; on the side are sweet Jersey Royals (an undisputed highlight in the British Isles’s natural larder) coated in salty nori – the ultimate mix of land and sea.
The beauty of just three courses means is that there is absolutely no excuse to skip dessert – and skip them you shouldn’t. The highlight is undoubtedly the devilishly rich Paris-Brest, featuring Glaswegian Bare Bones chocolate and oozing macerated cherries, with a final flourish of pistachio. Few places do sides with a dessert, but The Little Chartroom isn’t like anywhere else, so a neat portion of chocolate mousse and zingy cherry sorbet is served alongside.
As with any restaurant worth its salt, The Little Chartroom’s wine selection is stellar (as its cocktail list) but as always, the wine pairing is the best route. Carefully selected by sommelier Finn Porrelli, the lineup showcases some lesser-known labels as well as a few underrepresented regions – you’re likely to leave with a new favorite.
From the moment you enter The Little Chartroom, you feel a world away from the busy streets of Leith. Created by Edinburgh-based architecture and design firm, Studio Niro, the restaurant is minimalist yet cozy, with rich blues and oyster whites paying homage to the wild coastline that fringes Scotland.
The compact bar, decked top-to-bottom in rich navy blue, leads into the main restaurant which, with just 30 covers, is the definition of intimate. Every detail is clearly the result of much thought and deliberation, from the cute dried flower arrangements on each table and the framed maps on the walls to the impossibly dainty Cuptipol cutlery and stacks of cookbooks above the tables.
Be sure to book the counter seating, which gives a front-row view of the kitchen action. Hall-McCarron’s team is young and direct, dancing around one another with a surprisingly quiet hum of Scottish accents as they work in the tiny space. Fair warning: don’t sit here with someone you haven’t caught up with in a while – the theatre of the kitchen is far too entertaining to hold any conversation.
The Little Chartroom, 14 Bonnington Road, Edinburgh, Scotland, EH6 5JD, thelittlechartroom.com