Unfiltered: Shaun McCarron, The Little Chartroom

Co-owner of The Little Chartroom in Edinburgh alongside his wife Roberta Hall-McCarron, Shaun McCarron took a degree in hospitality and business management at university before working in restaurants and hotels in Edinburgh and Leeds. He joined Tom Kitchin’s Michelin-starred Castle Terrace where met Roberta and worked his way up to become restaurant manager. The couple left to run a pub in Cambridgeshire before returning to the Scottish capital to open their restaurant last summer. The Little Chartroom serves French-British cuisine and was placed 79th in this year’s National Restaurant Awards.

Shaun McCarron and Roberta Hall-McCarron

How did you arrive at the position you are in today?

At university, I studied a hospitality and business management degree. When I graduated, I worked in various hotels and restaurants in Edinburgh and Leeds before finding myself at back in Edinburgh at Castle Terrace. Here, I worked my way up from commis waiter to restaurant manager, of course the highlight of my time at Castle Terrace was meeting my wife Roberta who was head chef of the restaurant.

We both toyed with the idea of opening our own restaurant, however, we had no experience whatsoever, so we moved down to Cambridgeshire to run a country pub with rooms. This gave us the experience we needed to return to Edinburgh and open our own restaurant. We opened The Little Chartroom in June 2018, I run the front house of house and Roberta runs the kitchen, our first year as a new business has been a whirlwind, with learning curves along the way and a lot of triumphs.

What’s your favourite part of the job?

I love the fact that no two days are ever the same, the customers who dine with you on any given day can shape the way your day pans out, and that’s the fun of it. There is nothing I love more than seeing the joy on customers’ faces when trying new dishes and wines they have never tried before.

What’s the biggest misconception about the role of a sommelier?

It has be the stereotype that sommeliers are only out to sell the most expensive wine on the list. This is not the case at all, we want guests to try new wines or even recommending a delicious soft drink because at the end of the day, our aim is to ensure guests have an amazing experience in our restaurant regardless of the price they pay for the wine.

What’s your go-to drink at the end of a long day?

A super cold bottle of lager.

What’s your most embarrassing front-of-house moment?

I was serving a bottle of vintage Champagne to a famous winemaker and his wife. As I was opening the bottle and chatting away to them, I wasn’t fully concentrating on what I was doing. The bottle had so much pressure that it slipped out of my hand as I was releasing the cork. The bottle it hit the table, champagne sprayed everywhere, they and the table ended up covered in Champagne. As I reached for the bottle it continued to spray all over my face. Believe me what I say, it felt like an eternity when I was cleaning it up.

If you could give your younger self advice when starting out, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

What bottle sparked your love of wine?

I was quite young when I had my first wine experience, I tried a dry, fruit-forward Riesling. I always thought a Riesling was very sweet because that’s what my mum told me. I couldn’t have been more wrong so this made me realise just how versatile wines from the same grape could be, which made me want to try new wines and discover more about the grapes.

What to date has been your most memorable wine experience?

My old head chef kindly gifted me a 1988 Château Cheval Blanc a few years ago which was unbelievable. I will probably never get the opportunity to drink a bottle like it ever again.

Which customer habit annoys you the most?

When I can see a customer is unhappy about something and go check if everything is ok so that we can resolve the situation, they say everything is fine. I then will read an online review in which the customers have outlined their issues instead of allowing us to sort the issue during their dining experience.

This upsets me as I don’t think this is a true reflection of the overall experience as we tried to address the issue at the time. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen too much.

Who is your inspiration in the gastronomic world?

I’m a big fan of Gary Usher who runs Elite Bistros in the north of England. I like his no-nonsense approach and the way he always looks out for his staff. He has really made bistros cool again whilst making good food and wine accessible to everyone.

What’s your ultimate food and wine pairing?

Wild mushrooms with German Pinot Noir.

Where would your fantasy vineyard be?

California would be pretty cool!

If you weren’t working in the restaurant industry, what would you be doing and why?

I was a landscape gardener before I went to university, it was physically challenging but I enjoyed it. It was rewarding when you started seeing progress so I probably would have just stuck with that.

Which wine do you find it impossible to get along with?

I don’t find it impossible to get on with any particular wine, but I do find New Zealand Sauvignon really dull. I will never list one at the restaurant.

Who is the most memorable customer you’ve ever served and why?

We are fortunate to have lots of memorable people come through the door. Nobody famous, just lots of really nice people. Because the restaurant is so small we get to build up a really good rapport with all of our guests, so I couldn’t possibly single one person out.

What makes you most proud to be working in Edinburgh?

It is a fantastic city with lots of history and a thriving food scene. There are so many little independent restaurants and bars opening up doing really cool things with their own personality, it is so nice to be a part of this.

What’s on your wine bucket list?

I ticked it off already, it was the Château Cheval Blanc, I don’t think it could ever be beaten.

Finally, what wine and paired plate would you pick from your list and why?

I have been serving a lot of 2007 Rivesaltes Ambre from Domaine Fontanel with the Lanark blue cheese, apricot and walnut tart, which has been going really well.

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