The founder of the Cheese Bar speaks to Caroline Baldwin about launching his third restaurant – the Cheese Barge – on a canal boat in Paddington Basin.
Tell us about your cheese journey.
It all started as a truck in 2014, selling grilled cheese sandwiches at festivals like Glastonbury and Wilderness, as well as corporate events and weddings. I'm all about championing British cheese and making it more approachable.
We opened our first restaurant in Camden in 2017, which was an extension of the trucks. It had a casual, bar-focused menu with lots of Instagram-friendly melted cheese.
We cut our teeth on how to run a restaurant before opening our second site, Pick & Cheese in Seven Dials in 2019. This is more focused around cheeseboards and wine. Somehow we got the idea to set it up like a sushi conveyor belt, where customers can try a couple of plates and a glass of wine. Maybe they didn't realise we make mozzarella in the UK or that a cheese they are eating is made close to where they live – it starts their journey.
And now you've taken to the water?
We've never been interested in doing a carbon copy of our restaurants; we wanted to do something interesting or fun. So when we were approached by British Land, which owns the estate around Paddington Basin, to pair us up with an architect who had won a competition to design a barge for the canal, we came up with the Cheese Barge. The quirkiness definitely attracted us; finding new sites that are interesting is important, and lots of sites are just square boxes.
The idea of a boat seems pretty fun, but in retrospect it was an absolute nightmare. There are lots of aspects of running a business on a boat that you don't think about – like an internet connection and pumping in fresh water. Our Guernsey custard tart is going to have to be taken off the menu because our chefs find that the tart won't level because the boat is constantly moving! But now we've learned a lot from the mistakes, we can just enjoy it.
What are the popular dishes on the menu on the Cheese Barge?
Our 400g baked Baron Bigod (£32) is popular. Customers dip into it with Coombeshead sourdough, roasted new potatoes, grilled chicory, pickles, dried fruits and seasonal crudités, alongside Ampleforth Beer Fruit Chutney. From our sharing plates, the Westcombe fried curried cheese curds with chilli honey (£5.50) and the English Pecorino with squash spätzle (£10) are also favourites.
A lot of people associate the Cheese Bar with indulgent, hot, comfort, but we'd sooner not be a one-trick pony – it sort of annoys me that the Baron is so popular.
Are all your staff cheese enthusiasts?
We're a training partner with the Academy of Cheese, and our head of cheese is qualified to teach our staff up to level one or two. Each month staff take home a big bag of British cheese and they can spend time with our producers to see how it's made. We're trying to find ways to build that culture internally.
What would your dream next restaurant be?
I'd love to do a Michelin-starred cheese and wine bar – not necessarily to get a star, but to create something at that level. I'd like to take cheese to the same level as the sushi masters, where you serve an incredible tasting experience in a really small site.
The other idea I had was to open a Pick & Cheese in Paris, because I thought it would be fun for an English person to sell cheese on conveyor belt in France.
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