Roberta Hall, chef owner, The Little Chartroom

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th June 2019

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

Roberta Hall is the chef owner of The Little Chartroom in Edinburgh. 

Roberta runs the kitchen in the little bistro, while her husband, Shaun McCarron, manages the 16-cover dining room. Named after their love for sailing - a chartroom being a room for consulting charts on a ship - the chef said they couldn't be happier that their ideal restaurant has resonated so well with the public. 

The former chef de partie at The Kitchin spent six years working alongside Dominic Jack at Castle Terrace.

She won the Young British Foodies Award 2018, a sign that she is one to watch: previous winners have included Wright and Bell executive chef Richard Falk, former executive chef of Neo Bistro (now at Great Scotland Yard) Alex Harper and  The London Standard Hotel's Adam Rawson. 

Rising stars: Name three chefs you think are set for glory

  • Tim Spedding, (Formerly of P Franco & Coombeshead Farm, I’ve eaten Tim’s food on a number of occasions and it really is great. I can’t wait to see what he does next!)
  • Pam Brunton, (Inver, this is a very special restaurant and Pam deserves all the success in the world)
  • Luke Selby, (Hide, Luke has already won a number of awards and will continue to win a lot more I’m sure. I’m sure he will branch out on his own at some stage and I look forward to seeing what he does)

Guilty pleasures: What food that isn't considered 'cheffy' do you like to eat? 

Good bread, soft cheese and charcuterie

Favourite cookbooks: 

  • Eleven Madison Park, Daniel Humm
  • The Modern Preserver, Kylee Newton
  • On Vegetable, Jeremy Fox
  • Milk Bar, Christina Tosi
  •  Bouchon Bakery, Thomas Keller

When did you decide to become a chef and why? 

When I was sixteen I did a week's work experience. I'd always had an interest in food so I talked to my parents about it and they said: 'oh why don't you go and do a week's work in a restaurant' so I did that and absolutely loved it.

They then gave me a part-time job while I was in school and then I went full time after I left school. 

I just loved the buzz, loved everything that was going on, learning about the food, seeing food in a different way. 

Curried mussel soup
Curried mussel soup - recipe here

Where are the most formative places you've worked/which chefs were you working for?

It would have to be Tom Kitchin at The Kitchin Restaurant. I was there for three and a half years, then I went and opened at Castle Terrace with Dominic Jack, the chef patron there.

[...]

They've been the most influential and what I feel like I've learned the most in that they made me look at food in a completely different way - even though I'd been cooking for quite a long time before I worked for them I almost felt like I was back at day one when I went and worked for them because they were really passionate, really driven and just live and breathe it. It's very infectious. 

How would you define your food/style of cooking? 

Maple syrup & clotted cream panna cotta
Clotted cream and maple syrup panna cotta
- recipe here

Very typical chef answer: seasonal.

Our restaurant is tiny and so the menu is tiny - three starters, three mains, two desserts and one cheese. We also offer a one-one-one-one lunch menu. I keep it simple but it changes every few weeks.

I change it with regards to what's in season and I'll base the dishes around things that are coming in. We've been in asparagus season for a while now so that's been on the menu since, but I've changed the dish a few times.

Raspberries and strawberries are starting so a few of our dishes around these ingredients, using the cooking techniques that I've been taught and whatnot. 

You mentioned The Little Chartroom is a tiny restaurant, how many people work in the kitchen? 

We have three chefs, one's actually just finished but I've got two chefs and myself. Then there's my husband Shaun, he does front of house. But with regards to the size of the place, we can't have five of us working at one time because there's not enough space, so we only ever have four of us on.

We basically do everything. We serve, we greet, we take orders, we make drinks - we cook the food. There's no KP, we all pitch in, we're all cleaning, we're all doing dishes. It's quite a full-on little place to work in, but fortunately and unfortunately it's the way it just has to work.

It's good, I think, 'cause we're enjoying it, so. 

Little Chartroom2

 

In terms of your menu design, are you the sole creative or does everybody contribute their ideas - how do you go about designing your dishes? 

I'm the main person doing it but I'll always ask people's opinions - if I just want something a bit more fresh - everything's got to be in line with what we're doing there. If someone has this crazy idea that's completely off the ball then I would say no.

I'm really open to suggestions and want to encourage my staff to be thinking about food themselves and creating dishes because they're going to get to a point in their career where they're going to have to do it themselves.

But also, every time we create a new dish, we always plate one up and all the staff - all four of us - come round and eat it and ask for feedback.

We work on the dish together and we think: 'right, we could add this in or we could add that in, it needs more texture or it needs more acidity. Everything is discussed. We just want to make it the best that it can be.

What's the overarching idea with the Little Chartroom?

We wanted to create a space that would do what we look for when we go out - a really relaxed atmosphere, fun, friendly, really personal, quite intimate; obviously not pretentious, not formal at all.

Tasty food; interesting food, not your run of the mill stuff. For our staff to be knowledgeable and for us to be able to speak to the guests about what they're eating. So you're still getting an all-round experience but in a really relaxed fashion. 

I think there's a definite movement towards restaurants being like that and the general public are looking for that in restaurants. I'm seeing them pop up more and more in London and I want them to pop up more in Edinburgh. 

How do you think - in your career as a chef, the culinary scene has evolved in Edinburgh and more generally in Scotland? 

It's really evolved, it's great. If you look back to 15-16-17 years ago when I was starting out, there were a handful of restaurants that were good places to go and eat but you didn't have a massive choice to choose from, whereas now there's lots of choice and it's from all spectrums - the high end and the middle and the low -  which are great and they're really starting to pop up. 

We have such great produce up here, more restaurants need to open up.

There's lots of places to travel to, there's really great places that are a bit hard to get to but definitely worth the trek, like Inver [Restaurant and Rooms, in Cairndow], the Cellar in Anstruther. 

Little Chartroom

What do you see as the future for The Little Chartroom? Would you see yourself expanding or are you happy running a restaurant of that size, is that what you set out to do? 

We really wanted to get a place that was small for numerous reasons, because to try and keep the amount of staff that you need to employ down.

The biggest problem that you have in restaurants, especially in this day and age is staffing it. It's not an easy industry to work in and I think it's a global problem, it's very hard to find staff.

Although saying that, no matter what size team you have, it's always hard - it makes it harder in some ways because you're in such close proximity to each other, you've really got to get on with each other and if the person doesn't fit in with the team then obviously it's an issue because you're on top of each other. 

We've got a good team just now. I'm in the process of looking for someone else but the two guys that I have are doing great and we all do get on really well. 

Also not just to do with the staffing issues, we have found with it being the size that it is lends itself well to its success in some ways and to the experience that people get because you get this extra intimate experience I think and if we were to go bigger I think we may just lose that a little bit. 

I've worked in kitchens for sixteen years and I've never really had to serve anybody. Doing that here is actually something I was quite nervous about before, but it's amazing because you get the first response feedback from the guest, which normally is relayed through a waiter or a waitress - so actually getting it first hand it feels so much more genuine and it's just quite amazing. 

Part of our restaurant is a slightly open kitchen, we have four bar stools that overlook the cold starter and dessert section and people are really loving it and buying into that as well.

I think people are fascinated by restaurants now, and food, and chefs, and it's quite crazy how our industry has evolved in the last ten years but people book on purpose for those seats because they want to sit and they want to chat to you and they want to see what you're doing. It's quite mental. 

But with regards to growing, I think, if some of these people said to us - because we were so small we fill up at those peak times, people keep saying: 'oh you need to get a bigger place, but until we are maximising the seats at all the times that we're open, we're not thinking about getting anything bigger or even opening up a second place. 

We're one week away from being open for a year we're just going to take things as they come. 

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th June 2019

Roberta Hall, chef owner, The Little Chartroom

IN ASSOCIATION WITH