Last weekend, the brand-new Seven Dials Market opened in London’s West End around the corner from Covent Garden Underground station. The former shopping mall is now a buzzing food hall with familiar London names such as Monty’s Deli, Japanese restaurant Nanban, and seafood spot Claw serving fabulous food in a light-filled, multistorey space. But one vendor in particular is stealing the show: Pick & Cheese.
We’ve all been to those sushi restaurants where you sit on bar stools and pick your favorite morsels off a conveyor belt. Well, now the creators of the Cheese Bar in Camden have opened their second site and at its center is a 100-foot conveyor belt carting cheese samples past hungry diners.
The brains behind the outfit, Mathew Carver, is a self-confessed cheese fiend who admits to consuming around 150 grams, or five ounces, per day and who genuinely believes that “cheese makes you happier.” And while he appreciates the novelty of the cheese belt, he says the practicality shouldn’t be dismissed.
“You should serve cheese at room temperature because the flavors only really come out when you get to 12 to 16 degrees Celsius [53 to 60 Farenheit],” explains Carver. “So this allows you to serve them at room temperature.”
Frankly, it’s a wonder no one has done this before. It’s a style of serving far better suited to sampling cheese than sushi, which can feel a bit risky with unrefrigerated raw fish circling around a busy restaurant. And here in London, it actually works well.
“Cheese and wine bars have always been—especially in London—very faux French,” says Carver. “You go for a long evening, sit with a bottle of wine. . . . But the Cheese Bar makes it quite quick and easy—you grab a couple of plates, you have a few glasses of wine.”
He’s not wrong. It’s almost too easy. As soon as I sat down in one of the two booths (bookable for parties of six), the waft of passing cheeses had my mouth watering. I promptly ordered a glass of Spanish cora—which sits alongside French reds and Italian orange wines on the drinks list—and, with direct access to this conveyor belt of dreams, I got stuck in and immediately picked up three different plates.
It works much like a sushi bar too. Each plate is a different color, which corresponds to a price (the cheapest is £2.95, or US$3.65, and the most expensive is £6.10, or US$7.50). You take your cheese, and once you’ve finished, you pile the plates in the middle and your server will calculate the bill.
The menu of 25 cheeses (numbered so you can tell which is which as they pass by) is carefully crafted by Carver and his head cheesemonger, Sam Wilkes. “Our whole thing has been to get more people eating British cheese,” Carver explains. “This format gets loads of social media traction because of the gimmick of the conveyor belt, but what’s behind it is really good, authentic British cheese.”
Each is British and partnered with its own condiment, from classic fig flavors to more unusual pairings like truffled potatoes or lemon meringue. I ate a creamy Stilton by Cropwell Bishop in Nottinghamshire, which came with a chocolate and oat cookie that perfectly offset the tang. And, on Carver’s recommendation, I also tried the Fellstone from Cumbria—a raw milk version of Wensleydale—with a fig and cocoa spread. It was a new cheese to me, but will be featuring on my own cheese boards in future.
I’m not the only one being converted to new cheeses, says Carver. “Hearing people say stuff like, ‘Oh I never normally try blue cheeses, or washed-rind cheeses, but it’s only £3 for a plate so I’ll give it a go, that’s what’s really nice—it’s encouraging people to try different cheeses.”
One major downside to the Cheese Bar is that there’s an hour limit on your seat. I could have spent longer sipping and sampling. That limit may end up helping, though. This sort of establishment in London is bound to get a cult following and waiting times are likely to rocket. For now, you can generally walk up and get a spot right away. But be warned: The call of the cheese belt is hypnotic.