The World's First Cheese Conveyor Belt Restaurant Is a Dream Come True

Pick & Cheese features a moveable feast of artisanal cheeses — all made in the UK.

The Cheese Bar
Photo: Nic Crilly Hargrave

A Stilton from Nottinghamshire is coming toward me, but whirls past while I'm deliberating. Then comes a Cornish Gouda from Cornwall, sitting under its glass dome next to a bit of clotted cream fudge, but I'm too slow for that one, too. Finally, I grab a cheddar, made by a fifth generation cheesemaking family in Devon. I lift the lid to uncover the pungent, soft yellow wedge, and sample it from my seat at the bar, along with the dab of tomato chutney that's also on the plate.

I'm at Pick & Cheese, on the first floor of Seven Dials Market, a food and drink hall occupying a former banana warehouse in West London's Covent Garden neighborhood. And I'm sitting at the world's first cheese conveyor belt restaurant.

"The novelty of it entices people, and it gets them to try the cheeses and then actually take an interest in them," says founder Mathew Carver, who owns a collection of cheese-focused restaurants in London.

From where I sit, people are taking an interest. The bar is packed with diners, a lively mix of locals and tourists whisking plates and pouring wine. And all eyes are on slowly-moving British cheese.

The Cheese Bar
Nic Crilly Hargrave

Before there was a cheese conveyor belt, Carver launched his business as a food truck. The budding entrepreneur drove his Cheese Truck to music festivals selling hundreds of thousands of grilled cheeses. Instead of Kraft singles on white bread, though, these sandwiches were built around quality cheese sourced from the UK: a classic cheddar and onion, a goat cheese with honey and walnuts.

The cheese makers come from century-old operations or new and innovative start-ups. They're making artisanal products from cows and sheep and goats that graze in the bucolic countryside of the UK. "The ethos of the business since day one has been to champion British cheese," Carver says.

The idea behind it was to introduce people to great products that were being made so close by.

"I didn't think British cheese was getting as much attention as it deserves," Carver says. "[When I started the business in my late twenties], lots of my friends knew more about cheeses from Europe than they did about the kind of cheeses made in this country."

Eventually, the Cheese Truck expanded with a restaurant in Camden Market called the Cheese Bar, focusing on comfort foods like mozzarella sticks, macaroni and cheese, and creamy burrata made in London. Pick & Cheese came next, and Carver got the idea for the concept when he read a book about the person who put the first conveyor belt in a sushi restaurant in Japan as a way to make a traditionally swank and sometimes intimidating meal more approachable. He saw similarities with cheese.

"Our idea was to try and make British cheese a bit more accessible and a bit more fun."

The meal becomes an experience, and a bonus, Carver adds, is that the cheese is always served at its ideal room temperature. Diners take a seat at the bar and pluck plates with the cheese accompanied by thoughtful pairings. The Stilton, for example, comes with pear and cider brandy jam. A sheep's milk ricotta sits next to Amarena cherries. Much like the now-ubiquitous sushi conveyor belt restaurants of Japan, the check is tallied according to the empty plates, which are color coded by price. The drink menu highlights small-producer wines and local beer and cider.

On the heels of Pick & Cheese, Carver and his team opened another restaurant last May called the Cheese Barge. Docked outside of London's Paddington Station, the 96-foot double decker vessel encompasses an indoor dining area as well as a roof terrace, with a menu that Carver calls "a bit more refined." This includes small plates like ewe's milk halloumi from a small batch cheesemaker in North West England, and larger shareable dishes like stichelton English blue cheese and beef Bourguignon pie. Also on the menu, Carver returns to his roots with upscale grilled cheeses, like the local mozzarella with bacon and chili honey.

The Cheese Bar
Nic Crilly Hargrave

Back at the Seven Dials Market Pick & Cheese, the revolving blues and bries aren't the only local and regional products. Carver is building his cheese empire with a focus on sourcing as many products from the UK as possible. "Championing British products goes beyond the food you put on the plate," he says. The domes that cover the moving cheese, for example, are made bespoke for the company, and the cutlery is made in Sheffield, home to an industry that's been making silverware for centuries.

But while tapping local makers and manufacturers for, say, the crockery, is an integral part of the company's ethos, the frenzy at Pick & Cheese is a bit more focused on the local dairy. And for cheese lovers, the only thing better than a steady flow of cheese is unlimited plates of cheese. Once a week, Pick & Cheese runs a special where diners can feast on bottomless cheese and charcuterie plates for 75 minute slots.

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