Fromage first: The best cheeseboards in London restaurants
There are many (and increasing) ways of dividing the world, but my favourite is between the sweet-toothed and the more savoury-minded; between those who believe cheeseboard is a viable dessert option, and those who perish the thought (just as James Acaster does).
I’m in the former camp. For interest, depth and variety of taste and texture, cheese is hard to beat — particularly when paired with a Port or a dessert wine. To roam round a well-chosen cheeseboard is a mini adventure: one could be in Provence with one mouthful, savouring the salinity of a small, creamy goats’ cheese, and with the next have travelled to Scotland with a beefy Isle of Mull cheddar. Cheese has long been du jour in London, and as such appears on many menus — but not all boards are born equal. Sourcing is key, as are the accompaniments, be they crackers, chutney, oat cakes or quince jam, the queen of condiments. These are some of my favourites, serving artisanal cheeses from across Europe with wines, sides and biscuits that do their calibre justice. Make sure to save space.
That Bellamy’s has stood firm as all those around it changed is to its eternal credit. Trends are wilfully, joyfully ignored. It serves the souffle with melba toast, the tables sit beneath starched white tablecloths, and everything from mash to meringues comes in a perfect quenelle. The Assiette de Fromages is as French as the wine list, with the welcome exception of Jacob’s biscuits and a few sticky smidgens of quince jelly. At £15 for six to eight well-portioned cheeses, it’s generous too — not to mention well balanced between hard, soft, strong and stinky. It is, a friend recently pointed out, “a great example of just letting the cheese speak for itself”.
18 Bruton Place, W1J 6LY, bellamysrestaurant.co.uk
Together with fellow long-standing cheese shop, Neal’s Yard Dairy, La Fromagerie founder Patricia Michaelson has been pivotal to the renaissance of Britain’s cheese scene. Now, more than twenty years after opening her first shop in Highbury, she has three shops-cum-cafes, each with a dedicated cheese room. She cares deeply about her suppliers, all of whom are small-scale, traditional and often historic cheesemakers. Indeed, such is the quality of the cheese she buys, many of London’s best chefs use La Fromagerie to furnish their cheeseboards. Nor is it just cheese; as Michaelson’s small empire has expanded, so too has her offering, and her cheeseboard now comes with her own line of specially-developed cheese biscuits, and beautiful wines.
52 Lamb’s Conduit Street WC1N 3LL /30 Highbury Park, N5 2AA / 4 Moxon Street, W1U 4EW, lafromagerie.co.uk
Like many places, Provisions morphed into a deli during the pandemic — and until recently it seemed it would stay that way, to the dismay of its locals (I am one). It is back with a bang now, with bread from acclaimed Dusty Knuckle bakery, and a fridge full of raw milk cheese and (mostly) natural wines. It is the Platonic ideal of a local wine bar: compact but not cramped, full but not overflowing, buzzy but not so loud you can’t hear your companion. Like La Fromagerie, the team at Provisions buy the cheese themselves, largely from Europe. They do a mean line in French cheese, thanks to their Norman co-founder Hugo Meyer Esquerré — but there’s plenty of British and Spanish contenders. With cured meats, olives the size of your eyes, that bread and perfect cubes of membrillo, this is the place to enjoy cheese as the main event, rather than dessert.
167 Holloway Road, N7 8LX, provisionslondon.co.uk
Restaurant St Bart’s
With 15 deftly curated and exquisitely executed courses to get through, St Bart’s is necessarily light on fat and carbohydrate — until, somewhere between pre-dessert and coffee, you get to the cheese course. There, five sturdy wedges of British cheeses set out to sate any last scrap of hunger you have left. They hail from Buchanan’s, an artisan cheesemonger in central London, and come with crab apple jam, oatcakes and satisfyingly squidgy fruit bread. There’s a cider pairing, should you be so inclined, and the volcanic rock-inspired platter provides a pleasing contrast to the smooth, creamy milkiness of its wares.
63 Bartholomew Close, EC1A 7BF, restaurant-stbarts.co.uk
B Street Deli
“Brimming with Deliciousness” is this Bermondsey Deli’s tagline, and brimming is the word: between the counter, crammed full of charcuterie, pickles, vegetable antipasti and cheese, and the shelves stacked with wine, and the wide windows which are invariably steamed up with chatter of happy customers, it’s hard to see where in this diminutive deli one might actually be able to sit down for a feast of fromage. The answer lies in several wine barrels squeezed into unlikely corners, on which one can while away many an hour over one of the most generous boards in the city. The serving size is less slices, more chunks, chosen from their array of Italian, Spanish, French and British cheeses, and alluringly arranged amidst grapes, figs, sourdough and whatever else might be fancied.
88 Bermondsey St, SE1 3UB, bstreetdeli.co.uk
Vivat Bacchus boasts its own dedicated cheese room, where ripe wheels, firm logs and creamy cylinders of cheese converge in chilled stillness, ready for diners to devour. Though Vivat Bacchus is South African, its dairy wares hail from Britain courtesy of the Cheese Geek: a modern cheesemonger committed to sourcing the best cheeses at the best point in their life span (and doing so in a sustainable way). At Vivat Bacchus, cheese comes as a starter, alongside charcuterie and — if one has any sense at all — a great South African wine from their cellar. Staff can either choose for diners or take them into their chamber of cheeses to make their own selection. Don’t miss the Baron Bigod, a raw milk, brie-style cheese made in Suffolk, and Old Roan, which represents one of the only truly traditional, raw milk Wensleydale cheeses left in the UK.
47 Farringdon Street, EC4A 4LL / 4 Hays Lane, SE1 2HB, vivatbacchus.co.uk
It’s not a board, a platter or even a slate; nevertheless, it would be a travesty to write a round-up of London’s best cheeseboards and not include the acclaimed Eccles cake from St John, served as it should be with Lancashire cheese. The latter comes from Kirkham’s, the country’s only remaining producer of farmhouse Lancashire, and now in its third generation. The former is St John’s own: a dark, sweet, sharp punch of a puff pastry, packed with dried fruits and laced with butter and nutmeg. It is the perfect foil to the inimitably buttery crumble of Kirkham’s cheese, which combines curds from several different milking to create a complexity of texture and taste. For the more conventionally-minded, St John also has a regular cheeseboard, which is ordered from Neal’s Yard Dairy and changes according to what’s at peak maturity. The cheeses — Cora Lynn, St Jude and Brunswick Blue, at the time of writing — are served with slices of homemade raisin loaf and chutney made with shallots, apples, ginger, and tomatoes.
26 St. John Street, EC1M 4AY / 94-96 Commercial Street, E1 6LZ / 98 Marylebone Lane, W1U 2JE, stjohnrestaurant.com
Pick and Cheese
“Imagine Yo Sushi, but for cheese” is how Pick and Cheese was first described to me, which is true only in so far as the plates of cheese arrives via a conveyer belt. Everything else — atmosphere, drinks and, crucially, quality of produce — makes Pick and Cheese more akin to the high-end sushi bars of Japan than it does a nondescript chain. The brainchild of Matthew Carver (he of Cheese Truck and bottomless raclette fame), Pick and Cheese sources farmhouse cheeses from across the British Isles and pairs them with homemade accompaniments. Amarena cherries and sea salt with Cumbrian Ricotta, Tunworth with sweet garlic and herbs and Coolea with cumin roasted pineapple clotted cream speak to a thoughtful, chef-lead approach which, together with their small producer wine and Port selection, makes Pick and Cheese a far more sophisticated restaurant than it sounds.
Seven Dials Market, Short’s Gardens, WC2H 9AT, thecheesebar.com
Ask anyone who loves cheese where the best cheeseboard is in London, and they’ll say Chez Bruce. I know this because I have done just that, and Chez Bruce was invariably the answer. Even after the demise of it’s a legendary cheese trolly — a victim of the Covid lockdowns — its reputation for variety, quality and generosity remains. It is like your grandma has just downsized to a bungalow and is so terrified of not being able to rustle up three portions of pudding, as per, she comically over-caters. Estimations vary, but they will serve you at least 10 cheeses, and sometimes as many as 15. The cheeses are French, largely — quelle surprise — though there are some strong home contenders. They come with fig cheese, a slither of membrillo and whatever wine one desires from the 33-page wine list. Sister restaurant La Trompette is equally impressive.
2 Bellevue Road, London SW17 7EG, chezbruce.co.uk
Where’s Fred’s is unassuming wine bar that is almost as hard to find as the name suggest, tucked as it is down a side street in the most labyrinthine part of the City. The persistent will be justly rewarded, however, with the aforementioned Baron Bigod as standard, as well as Gorwydd Caerphilly: a lactic, lemony, mushroomy number that straddles the line between creamy and crumbly. The third cheese changes regularly— at the time of writing, it’s a ripe, beautiful blue from Yorkshire — but crisp grapes and crackers are staples, as are organic wines, sourdough and plates of charcuterie from London charcuterie maker, Cobble Lane Cured.
7 Frederick’s Place, EC2R 8EA, wheresfreds.com