Two new Edinburgh restaurants

A version of this article is published by the Financial Times. Sound advice for those heading to this year's Edinburgh Festival. 

The quality of the bread they serve and the fact that both are run by husband and wife teams are just a couple of things that two new restaurants in Edinburgh, The Little Chartroom and Fhior, have in common. 

However, what is most striking about The Little Chartroom restaurant on Albert Place between Edinburgh and Leith is its size. It is tiny. Book immediately if this is of interest. 

Although its frontage stretches across a couple of windows, this former cafe seats only 18, and four of these are at the counter.

In fact, our counter seats, described as Table 3 on my bill, were to prove ideal. I had a clear look into the small kitchen where Roberta Hall-McCarron, seen here, cooks so confidently. I had to breath in when her husband, Shaun, had to accept a large drinks delivery in the middle of service and store it in the narrow gap between a wall and a fridge.

And I had a clear view of how studiously a young female chef was podding broad beans while her male counterpart chopped and dressed the heritage tomatoes to accompany the octopus in the first course before moving on to assemble the more complicated dessert.

Size, and presumably profitability, have been challenges for this talented couple since they opened a year ago. But these, and numerous others, they seem to have overcome successfully.

One other particular challenge has been the bread service. Now I am sure that Hall-McCarron is an excellent baker. Many Scottish women are, let alone one who spent 10 years training under chefs such as Tom Kitchin. But the size of the available kitchen precludes bread-baking and so Hall-McCarron does the next best thing.

She buys the bread she serves, a sourdough and another laced with treacle, from the Twelve Triangles bakery in Edinburgh. Their bread is excellent – as are the coffee and croissants served in their cafes, one of which is nearby in Brunswick Street.

Hall-McCarron writes a menu that fits her kitchen: three starters, three main courses and a dessert or cheese. But each dish is intricate and full of flavour.

We began, having seen the tomatoes being prepared, with the octopus first course alongside a dish described as ox tongue, bavette and peas. It was a shame in a way that the meat precluded this dish being ordered by a vegetarian as the peas that provided the bedrock were exquisite and so sweet.

The Little Chartroom's 'greens' under sea trout
Those 'greens' under sea trout

The same attention to the preparation of the vegetables infused my main course. Under the catch-all phrase of ‘greens’ came an amalgam of broad beans, samphire and courgettes that, alongside an aubergine puree, set off a well-judged fillet of sea trout. We enjoyed a couple of glasses of 2012 Chianti Classico from La Porta Di Vertine as well as an extremely subtle elderflower posset and coffees, culminating in a bill of £120 for two.

The Little Chartroom gets its name from the series of charts of the west coast of Scotland that have been transformed by the chef’s mother into artwork and now hang on the restaurant’s walls.

The name Fhior may be simpler – it is Gaelic for 'true' – but it probably took this husband and wife team, chef Scott and Laura Smith, just as long to think of it.

The Smiths’ approach is more rigid, via a couple of set menus – of four courses for £40 or seven courses for £65 – designed to put Scottish produce and cooking on the world stage.

They begin with some terrific bread and butter. Using a barley grain grown only by one farmer in the Orkneys, their homemade bread is dense and highly enjoyable with an inherent sourness. This is, however, more than offset by the sweetness of the butter that is made from a three-year-old culture.

On a night when Smith was cooking alongside two chefs from Melbourne, Michael Clark and Jodie Odrowaz, both making a return to Scotland, I enjoyed a meal of several highs, a couple of lows and plenty of fascinating ingredients.

 

First course at Fhior restaurant, Edinburgh

The highlights were a first course of a seared scallop made even more succulent by the addition of lamb-fat emulsion alongside two spears of perfectly cooked asparagus. A fillet of steamed halibut came topped with fermented buttermilk, both spiced up by a seaweed known as pepper dulse. The same combination worked as well with smoked, spatchcocked poussin enlivened by togarashi, Japanese pepper.

The dishes that worked less well were a second course of barley porridge with spicy Australian dessert limes and the dessert of salted rhubarb with woodruff and ground ivy that was just too sweet for my palate. But this was more than made up for by my final dish, a stunning tart of diced strawberries and wattleseed, the seeds of the Australian acacia first enjoyed by the Aborigines.

But alongside the pleasure of eating here came the opportunity to watch the friendly integration of the kitchen and waiting staff as they brought the food in ceramic bowls and dishes made by the Norwegian potter Kari Ytterdal. This dinner also provided me with the opportunity to watch Stuart Skea, a first-class sommelier, in action.

The Little Chartroom 30 Albert Place, Edinburgh EH7 5HN tel +44 (0)131 556 6600

Twelve Triangles Bakery and Cafes 

Fhior 36 Broughton Street, Edinburgh EH1 3SB tel +44 (0)131 477 5000

The kitchen at The Little Chartroom, Edinburgh