The Little Chartroom was a bit of a sensation when it first opened. Hard work, a strong culinary philosophy and an unwavering commitment to top quality assured that this restaurant that it would not be yet another ‘boom and bust’ story. I had the great pleasure of not only dining at The Little Chartroom in Bonnington, but also of speaking to Roberta Hall-McCarron, who co-founded the restaurant with her husband Shaun McCarron, about her inspiration and vision for this wonderful success story. I started by shamelessly laying my fan-boy stance bare and extolling my ill-educated musings on how ‘LCR’ was precisely the sort of thing that Scotland’s capital city needed. “Thank you!” Roberta replied. “The Little Chart Room was what Shaun and I felt Edinburgh was really missing. We wanted to create a restaurant that we would both like to go and eat in. Somewhere which felt like eating in the kitchen of a close friend who also really knows how to cook great food.”
Roberta and Shaun are both originally from Edinburgh and met in amongst the high-pressured inferno of a restaurant kitchen. Castle Terrace was sadly to close due to the indiscriminate ravages of Covid-19, but more than just a romantic bond had been forged between this couple. They shared not only many, many hard-fought years of experience in the kitchens of various top-flight restaurants but also a creative flair and an entrepreneurial vision. This business savvy pair had their eyes peeled for a small, manageable venue for some time before a friend of theirs who, rather usefully, works in commercial real estate flagged the current venue for the couple’s other restaurant, Eleanore. This spot at 30-31 Albert Place was, before Eleanore moved there, the original spot for Little Chart Room. “He sent us various bits and bobs and then later he emailed us about Albert Place as a bit of a joke, because it was so tiny” Robera chuckled. “We had a good idea of what we wanted which was somewhere small so that we could manage our overheads carefully and in the end we only had ten minutes to actually view the venue, so we raced around and afterwards we looked at each other and said… “that’s it”. A bit like when you view a house and you just know!”
I asked Roberta if she’d known all along what the culinary philosophy would be at Little Chart Room; “Yes, we always knew. We always wanted it to be an intimate affair where food and service was really good quality with delicious wines, a bit like if we were hosting our diners at our own place.” Bearing this in mind, the end result is an unqualified triumph as LCR does achieve just that. I looked around the restaurant when I visited it and the atmosphere was one of cheery conviviality in a trendy but still cosy kitchen-style restaurant. It was clear to me that Eleanore has cemented itself as the ‘nip in and share’ kind of offering, especially given Albert Place’s wonderfully central location, whilst The Little Chart Room remains the celebratory venue where star crossed lovers go to date, or mile-stone birthdays are celebrated. “We wanted some hustle and bustle, a vibrant atmosphere that was really inclusive and accessible. We were also really interested to have guest spots with other chefs and some interesting partnerships.”
One of the things I was particularly curious about was the menu size. The Little Chart Room has a micro-menu, with just three options per course. Right now this includes some scintillating options like the octopus carpaccio, romseco, olive, basil, almond and tomato for starter, or the cod, leek, potato, trout roe and shrimp butter for mains. “Initially we simply felt we didn’t have the bandwidth to do a bigger menu or the space for that matter. Moreover, we felt that limiting the size of the menu encourages people to try things out that they wouldn’t normally try.”
In terms of what the future holds, Roberta told me that the focus is on two things; continuing to make sure that the food shoots the lights out, with particular emphasis on quickly-rolling seasonal dishes, and on consolidating the business. “A dish may now only be on the menu for about five weeks, though before it might have been even less time, say, three weeks. This is particularly important for our regulars, who can be sure to find something new each and every time they visit us.”
Eleanore and The Little Chart Room both continue to go from strength to strength and their city-wide band of disciples is now expanding nationally. Roberta and Shaun clearly followed the first rule of mass media when they cooked up their gastronomic concept; ‘always give the people what they want’, and the people of Edinburgh most certainly want what they have to offer.
14 Bonnington Rd, Edinburgh EH6 5JD