An unexpected enclave of global flavours in a neighbourhood that offers plenty more than the famous railway terminus
The journey from humble food truck to a bricks and mortar restaurant empire is now enshrined in the lore of streetfood operators, although success in making the leap is far from assured.
The Cheese Bar is a happy example of how to do it right, starting life as an ice cream van serving delicious toasties, and graduating in 2017 to a beautifully designed home in Camden’s historic North Yard.
Founder, Matthew Carver, set out to champion British cheese by forming close ties with small, artisanal dairy producers along the way. He was also keen to present their decadent cheeses in a suitably stylish environment, which means the cosy restaurant is a real aesthetic joy to visit.
The format has been luring them in ever since, with Matthew and team adding a floating cheese barge just up the canal, and a sushi-style conveyor belt of cheese at Seven Dials Market to their growing operation. But it is the Camden original that we love best, and the bottomless British raclette they are serving at Secret Feasts is the ideal way to get to know it.
Alan Watson’s career path was first laid out when he went to buy a car and happened to pass a shop with a sign in the window seeking part time help at the cheese counter.
“I totally fell in love with the whole field to plate concept,” he tells us. “When I met the cheese makers, I quickly realised that it’s not about the money, or the prestige, awards or accolades for them. They get up at 4am, push around 100 cows, milk them, spend hours making cheese, then sit on it for several months before trying to sell it. The work never ends, and I really respect that.”
Progressing through the industry over the last nine years, Alan now has the enviable title as Head of Cheese for the whole group, responsible for further strengthening the relationships with dairies across the UK.
“At the end of the day, cheese is very humble,” he states. “It’s not like wine where you get expensive vintages. It’s made to be eaten.”
This short shelf life meant the prolonged Covid lockdowns spelled potential disaster for small British cheesemakers. But The Cheese Bar stepped in, with initiatives such as crowdfunding campaigns, virtual tasting events and commandeering the old ice cream van to hand deliver cheese to customers isolating at home.
“It was all a bit Wild West,” admits Alan, “but we’ve always been about speaking directly to our guests, so visiting them at home was a natural extension of that. It was also impressive to see how the whole industry adapted to the challenges. It excites me to see what happens next as things return, too, as there are new cheesemakers coming out every few months, so we’ll be working with them and creating new dishes. It’s all about progression.”
When tasting cheese is your actual job, it’s obviously bad form to complain, but we still have to ask Alan what are the downsides to this enviable vocation?
“There’s a thing called batch variation,” he reveals, “where you open up a wheel of something and just know that it’s the best it has ever tasted. And there’s always a part of you that knows it’ll never quite taste that good again. That will be down to seasonality, who made the cheese, the day of the week, all kinds of factors together. We serve a hard, cloth-bound cheese from Lanarkshire in Scotland called Corra Lynn, and there was a batch a couple of years ago that was absolutely at its peak. The worst part of my job is knowing that I’ll probably never quite taste it to that high standard again.”
On four special Wednesday nights (Feb 23rd and March 2nd, 9th and 16th) Camdenist presents Secret Feasts at North Yard.
for their special menu, The Cheese Bar are offering a bottomless melted British Raclette scraped over hot potatoes and served with cornichons and a glass of wine.
Enjoy the oozing melted cheese classic at Secret Feasts, but be quick, tickets for this are ultra limited.
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