It’s a 10/10 for an Edinburgh contender
The newly-baked tart that’s cooling off in the window of Edinburgh’s Little Chartroom fills me with optimism about good things to come. It has a straight-from-the oven, home-baked quality, only it looks that little bit more perfect than most domestic efforts. Is there only one, I wonder; might it run out?
That this faint anxiety even crosses my mind at this premature stage reflects the smallness and intimacy of this beautifully curated restaurant, no bash-it-out assembly line this, more like a scaled-up dinner for friends, where the cook, arms brimming from the market, prepares the pick of the day. In fact they’re so serious about seasonality here that the printed menu risks constant updating – only one portion of this, only two of that – and when it’s gone it’s gone. I love this philosophy.
The place itself – welcoming, but smartly sparse as befits the limits of the space – shows similar coherence, decorated in a classic Breton colour scheme: creamy painted brick walls, French navy bar, dark wood. Wise focus shapes this menu: three choices each of starters and main courses, two desserts or cheese. The simplicity of the Little Chartroom is soothing. Both its physical calmness and the ease of choosing quietly combine to foster contentment, a feeling that you’re in capable hands.
And all my expectations are met on the plate. The menu here doesn’t drone on nor is it pretentiously cryptic. It just accurately describes what’s on offer, although as I cut into the chicken, wood pigeon and prune terrine, it’s obvious that they’ve undersold it. What a clever dish this is. Somehow or other the white chicken meat isn’t dry, the pigeon has remained pink and juicy yet offers no resistance in the mouth, even though they’re both encased in a luscious, but firmly cooked pork forcemeat bound with streaky bacon. How does the chef manage to cook each meat to perfection then wrap them up one in accomplished dish? Ribbons of carrot, angular radish, beetroot, quartered florets of romanesco, all crunchy, lightly pickled, make a brightly vivacious foil for the sturdy terrine.
Celeriac soup? Don’t yawn. This one is something else. Its velvety folds dispatch a whiff of potent stock: goose or duck maybe? It’s capped with cubes of fried celeriac, translucent celery, broken walnuts and green apple matchsticks. There’s a hugely satisfying warm crumpet with it, dense yet springy, not unlike a handmade potato scone, and it’s dusted with curls of soft, creamy, grated walnut.
Some swine got to the mushroom and leek Pithivier before us – drat! – but game replaces it. Venison, partridge, grouse? We choose the latter, once again impeccably timed so that the leg and breast are each soft and succulent in different ways. The unique autumn woods flavour of the bird finds echoes and balance in bitter chicory cooked to collapse, roasted crescents of apricots, and less commonly encountered, fragrant wild mushrooms: orange birch boletus, saffron milk cap.
Then there’s the hake, seconds overcooked for my taste. No matter, I’m seduced by its fennel roasted to amber, the grilled half-moons of charred cucumber (or perhaps it’s marrow) and the sauce, which is somewhere between a seafood bisque and a butter emulsion, with a tiny dice of orange segments dotted around it, freshening up the chunky fish.
Phew, that tart – it’s bramble and lemon – hasn’t yet been eaten, and tastes every bit as good as it looks.
Ego well in check, rigorously seasonal, a palpable depth of professional training, a space where you instantly feel at ease. What a winner.
It needs no embellishing but I’m not turning my nose up at its white chocolate ice cream, the buttery almond crumble it’s sitting on, its tart bramble purée, or its two dinky bramble macaroons. Carrot cake is the other dessert. Boring? Not this one. An adroitly moist sponge, hauntingly scented – with cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, star anise maybe? – provides the body. Squiggles on top of it taste like fresh white cheese, not overly sweetened, with a slightly floral, marzipan note that might come from meadowsweet.
A quenelle of carrot ice cream hangs off it at a rakish angle. Its custardy consistency reminds me of pumpkin pie, its taste of Indian halwa.
So the Little Chartroom instantly rockets up my restaurant favourites list. Ego well in check, rigorously seasonal, a palpable depth of professional training, a space where you instantly feel at ease. What a winner.