Beating the drum for Scotland's natural larder, Edinburgh-born Roberta Hall-McCarron is the brains behind restaurant The Little Chartroom and wine bar Eleanore. The chef, who enjoyed stints in several award-winning kitchens before starting her own venture with husband Shaun in 2018, works carefully with the seasons to source locally and responsibly.
"My menus change all the time and dishes don't always make a reappearance, but that's the beauty of seasonality," says Hall-McCarron. "A lot of foodies associate me with game dishes. I have a number of guests who visit on 12 August. It's the first day of the year for grouse and, while it changes every year, the bones and the way it's traditionally prepared remain the same."
It's no secret that the hospitality industry is both saturated and predominantly male. "The kitchens I had worked in were masculine and aggressive, and sexist remarks were commonly made, so I can understand why women find it hard," says Hall-McCarron. "I personally used this as fuel and an incentive to ensure my own kitchens would never look like that."
Roberta and Shaun, left, and a The Little Chartroom dish. | Photo credit: Aemilia Claudia
The Little Chartroom and Eleanore - which occupies the same space the restaurant started out in - have become the coolest hangouts in the Scottish capital. Keen to discover Hall-McCarron's tips on how to best spend a weekend in the city, we caught up with her to chat favourite spots for breakfast, where we should be staying and the foodie startup that's making waves.
Where To Eat In Edinburgh According To Chef Roberta Hall-McCarron
City mews, left, and Edinburgh Castle
When's the best time to visit Edinburgh?
During the Festival Fringe in August. The atmosphere in the city is electric; there are so many fantastic arts and cultural events.
Where should we stay?
Porteous' Studio in the Grassmarket is the perfect self-catered apartment. The location is ideal and the airy design is beautiful. It's helmed by a young couple who have an appetite for craft and considered architecture.
How should we get around?
On foot. The magic of Edinburgh is that everything is within walking distance.
Where should we head for breakfast?
Ante. Run by the same team as neighbourhood wine bar Spry, the charming coffee house is perched at the top of Leith Walk. You'll find everything from hot-cross buns to feta flatbreads and homemade sausage rolls. I can't recommend it enough.
Inside Eleanore, and something from the menu. | Photo credit: Aemilia Claudia
We're having dinner at The Little Chartroom, of course, followed by a drink at Eleanore. What do you recommend?
The Little Chartroom is where I always cook. It offers an à la carte menu with the choice of three dishes for each course. Standouts include the beef short rib, served with creamed potato in a barbecue sauce, and plaice on the bone, served with golden beetroot and fennel dressed in a cider butter sauce. There's also an exceptional rhubarb and hibiscus doughnut. Always order the game if it's the season.
Eleanore is our more casual restaurant and wine bar. It offers a fixed menu and snacks to savour with a glass of wine - the martinis are superb, too. There's an emphasis on Scottish produce at both addresses. While the spaces are both inspired by our coastline, with nautical illustrations and decorative maps, it's Eleanore that's the louder little sister, with its central location, high tables and bar stools.
Give us a run-down on the local bar scene.
I love Nauticus in Leith - it's my favourite bar for any occasion. Mistral, a wine bar right next door to The Little Chartroom, is also great. It stocks a stellar selection of low-intervention and independent wine labels, plus the vibe is always super-chilled. If it's cocktails you're after, then head into town to Bramble Bar or Lucky Liquor Co.
Edinburgh in spring, left, and city streets
Any startups making positive changes that we should know about?
Aemilia is a brilliant little pasta shop in Portobello. They take great care in their sourcing, which shows in the quality and flavour of their product. At the moment, it's a shop, but I hope to see it grow into a restaurant in the near future.
A favourite independent shop we should check out?
Lifestory is my go-to shop in Edinburgh. I can spend hours there - and a lot of money in the process. They have beautiful ceramics and homeware, but also stunning stationery, jewellery and clothing, too.
How should we spend a weekend in the city?
On the first night, I'd keep it casual: Gulp Ramen is always a good bet, followed by a drink in Spry. Take a morning stroll to Arthur's Seat, after which you'll want to slip into Edinburgh Castle, before rewarding yourself with a seafood lunch at Ondine. Make it dinner at The Little Chartroom and cocktails in town. Sundays call for a long, lazy breakfast at Ante, best chased with a wander along the shore for a couple of hours.
And, lastly, any trends we should look out for on the food scene in 2023?
Towards the end of last year, we started seeing a lot more fine-dining restaurants introduce set menus to keep costs low and ensure great-value experiences for their guests, which has been a focus at our restaurants, too. I think we will see even more of this in 2023.
I also believe that having a solid non-alcoholic offering is growing more important. We make a lot of shrubs in-house and also work with Feragaia, a great Scottish non-alcoholic spirits company.