When asked about the most challenging situation she has faced in her career, Roberta Hall-McCarron, chef and owner of The Little Chartroom in Edinburgh, doesn’t have to think too far back.
“I am facing it right now,” she says. “Running any business during the COVID-19 pandemic is terrifying. I find this particularly scary as we are still a relatively new business trying to get established. There is a lot of uncertainty about what measures will be put in place once restaurants re-open and we don’t want those measures to have an impact on our offering to guests. We also only have 18 seats, so the prospect of having to increase the gaps between tables is a big worry as there isn’t any space to do this which would mean we will need to lose some tables thus making the business less viable.”
However, Hall-McCarron is no stranger to difficult environments. When working at the Burj Al Arab, she worked on a 17-person team that had 10 different nationalities. She describes the kitchen as being the busiest one she has ever worked in and that every person on the team was under the same amount of pressure from the incredibly high standards expected of them. “As for being the only woman, I didn’t find it an issue, I have always been the minority and I just learnt to get on with that from very early on in my career,” she explains.
Luxury Lifestyle Magazine speaks with Hall-McCarron on her newest venture and why every food lover should add Edinburgh to their must-visit list.
Is there any advice you would give to someone looking to start a career in restaurants?
Embrace every opportunity given to you. It is a vast and varied industry and there is so much to learn. Take time to learn your craft; too many many people want to jump into managerial positions before they are fully equipped to do the role. Once you are fully equipped to take on a more senior role, don’t be afraid to continue learning and trying new things. It will be hard work; it will be tiring and it will be stressful at times ,but it is hugely satisfying watching happy guests enjoy their experience in your restaurant.
What makes the Edinburgh food scene so exciting?
We have access to some of the best produce in the world, which makes sourcing good produce quite easy. Edinburgh is an incredibly busy city all year-round with lots of tourists visiting. Between the tourists and the discerning diners of Edinburgh and the surrounding cities, there is a real demand for good food. There are so many talented people in Edinburgh who have been able to meet this demand by offering such a wide variety of places to go. Edinburgh has amazing restaurants, bakeries, cafés, and bars. Lots of food business owners help one another out and support each other’s businesses. It’s such a great scene to be a part of.
What made you decide to open The Little Chartroom and what is the ethos behind your food?
I have worked in kitchens for almost 20 years and have always cooked other people’s food. I felt it was the right time to branch out on my own and start to cook my own food. I am really enjoying getting to be creative and finding my own style of cooking. We felt like Edinburgh was missing a slightly more casual style of restaurant where you could get a really nice meal at a relatively affordable price. This is why we decided to go down the neighbourhood bistro route, my food is driven by the produce that is available to me, so it is always very seasonal. I take influences from my French classical training and I like to mix it with other styles of food from all over the world. As long as it tastes good and it is in season, I am happy!
Your husband Shaun runs the front of house at your restaurant. Any tips on how you maintain a smooth and productive working relationship?
Fortunately, we are generally on the same page. If I can see he is very busy out front or vice-versa, we will always try to help one another out. We are pretty honest with one another when we don’t like something, which can sometimes be difficult to take at the time, but the end goal is always to make the restaurant the best it can be. Sometimes we have to have those difficult conversations to get there and we involve the rest of the team in a lot of the decision-making so it rarely feels like it is just the two of us who disagree, which makes it easier on our marriage too. We always said we would never take work home with us, but that is impossible. We just have to pick and choose how we go about bringing things up sometimes and we both know each other well enough to know when is a good or a bad time.
Which is the dish you’ve created that you are most proud of and why?
That’s a tricky one. About this time last year, we had a stuffed saddle of lamb with black garlic, apricot and yoghurt which I really enjoyed. I will definitely put that on the menu again at some point, once we get back open.
You’re having friends over for dinner tonight. What’s on the table?
A big braised venison pie with lots of delicious vegetables. With a really nice bottle of red to wash it all down.
Name your favourite city that has it all: food, culture, and nightlife.
It has to be Copenhagen.
When the lockdown is over, what is the first restaurant you’ll be heading to and what will you order?
In Edinburgh, it will probably be Ondine, for a lobster Thermidor. I will also head a bit further afield to L’Enclume, I was supposed to go there just as lockdown was introduced so I am itching to finally go and try it.
The Little Chartroom
Address: 30 Albert Pl, Edinburgh EH7 5HN
Phone: 0131 556 6600