Joanna Bly­ht­man

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Contents - Joanna Blyth­man is the Guild of Food Writ­ers Food Writer of the Year 2018

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.

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