The Little Chartroom has an extremely devoted fan base.
According to its co-owner and head chef, Roberta Hall-McCarron, 38, there is one guest who is booked in for Sunday lunch every week until the end of 2022. Soon, that diner will have a second place to try. If all goes to plan, Eleanore will be opening on December 10.
When I speak to Hall-McCarron, she’s collecting the crockery for the new restaurant and her husband and co-owner of the businesses, Shaun McCarron, 33, is sending her videos of the premises while trying not to get under the builders’ feet.
“The work never really stops with restaurant owners”, she says.” But it’s really quite lovely and exciting seeing it all come together”.
The original The Little Chartroom has recently moved from Albert Place, where it’s been since 2018, to 14 Bonnington Road.
Eleanore will be slotting into their old premises, but it’ll have its own distinct identity.
Named after a boat that was owned by Hall-McCarron’s family, they’ll offer a menu of around 14 dishes and the space will have a casual wine bar feel. There will be high-top tables, and seating at the windows, and they’ve reversed the colour scheme so it’ll be oyster white outside, and blue indoors. They’ll be open from Friday to Monday, which will be useful for those of us who struggle to find somewhere to eat on Mondays. They also know exactly what they’re doing food-wise.
“The menus are completed - everything’s delayed so we’ve been using this time to our advantage, going into The Little Chartroom and practising dishes,” says Hall McCarron. “It feels like Eleanore was talked about so much and now we’re not that far from the finish line”.
It will serve some of the dishes that were available at their hugely popular Portobello pop-up, The Little Chartroom on the Prom, which was recently replaced by new business, Shrimpwreck. These will be cooked by their chefs, Hamish McNeil and Moray Lamb, who have crossed over from the seaside street food business and are very happy to be working in a warm kitchen.
Among other things, the team has come up with wondrous-sounding options including BBQ pork neck, chicory and quince; the spectacular-looking cured mackerel, meat radish, salted gooseberry and ponzu; hen of the woods, shiitake Bordelaise and celeriac; flatbread with sunflower seed dip and oysters with fermented cucumber, sweet pickled apple and horseradish oil.
“There’s always going to be oysters on the menu”, says Hall-McCarron, who also rates Edinburgh restaurants, Noto, Spry and Ondine. “There won’t be anything in brioche buns though, that’s done and dusted. It was great when we were at Portobello but it’s not what we’re angling for. I’m pretty sure that hash browns are also going to be featuring, with something delicious to dip them into. We want you to drop in for a glass of wine, and one or two things, or the entire menu and a plethora of wine. The idea is to be really accessible and fun”.
When it comes to designing the menu for both restaurants, Hall-McCarron has a democratic process. She’s also open to constructive criticism from her husband, who is a “director of everything” at the restaurants, where ownership is 50/50 between the two of them.
“Whenever we write menus, we do it as a team, because we get a better dish out of it”, she says. “I value Shaun’s opinion, he is my go-to person. If I’ve got an idea, he’ll be the first person I speak to because we work very well together. Even though he doesn’t know how to cook at all, he knows food, our guests and the restaurant”.
Although Shaun looks after the operations and front-of-house side of the business, Hall-McCarron has found that more of their guests want to catch a glimpse of her, after her appearance on the Great British Menu in 2020 and as a finalist earlier this year.
She’s entered the echelons of celebrity chef, though we might not be seeing her on telly again anytime soon.
“No more Great British Menu,” she says. “It was amazing, such an incredible experience, to meet other chefs and do different styles of food. When I worked at The Kitchin, Tom Kitchin did the programme and, I thought, God, that sounds terrifying, I’d never put myself out there like that, that’s just carnage, but your confidence grows and these opportunities come up. It has been fantastic for the business. There is this thing now where guests do want to say hello. It is a bit weird for me, because I’m just a person”.
She won’t be disappearing off to shoot I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here anytime soon. Fame isn't the reward, but the excitement of working in restaurants. After all, she was the only one in her high school class who was “buzzing” after doing work experience at the age of 15, when she chose to spend a week at Edinburgh restaurant, The Tower, which sadly closed during lockdown. That set her on her cooking trajectory, with previous jobs at top restaurants including another pandemic casualty, Castle Terrace Restaurant.
For now, you’ll mainly find her working hard behind the scenes, trying to create and maintain the sort of places that guests want to visit every week. Their food may have become more refined over recent years, but they still want the venues to be loud and joyful. There are no white linen tablecloths.
“I hope people have a good time”, says Hall-McCarron. “We always wanted people to feel like they were coming to our house for dinner”.
Eleanore, 30-31 Albert Place, www.eleanore.uk