What: A floating cheese restaurant moored on Paddington’s The Regent’s Canal. The 96ft double decker barge takes its design cues from the Electra bookshop in Venice - itself inspired by ship design – with a copper ‘veil’ acting as an awning for the 40-cover lower deck dining room. There’s also a 20-cover alfresco upper deck for when the weather improves, whenever that might be.
Who: The Cheese Barge is the third restaurant project for Mathew Carver, joining Camden’s The Cheese Bar and Covent Garden’s Pick & Cheese. The head chef is Reagan Ellenbroek, who has worked with executive chef Ross Keeling to create a menu of British dishes made using small producer cheese. Also aboard is head cheesemonger Sam Wilkin.
The vibe: Designed by Adam Richards Architects, the barge is a stunning piece of engineering - the underside of the roof is visible from inside the boat and floods the dining room with the light that reflects off the water. Clever stuff - dining on boats can often be a dingy affair. The fixtures and fittings are modern and stripped back, with light wooden benches and chairs and Terrazzo-effect table tops.
The food: The menu kicks off where most other menus end with eight ‘cheeseboards’ (£4 each or three for £10). Each combines a small producer British cheese with a carefully chosen accompaniment - for example Gorwydd Caerphilly with orange and fennel marmalade; and Young Buck with a homemade chocolate digestive. Next up are small plates, including Cropwell Bishop stilton-stuffed prunes wrapped in bacon; English pecorino with squash spätzle; and fried Quicke’s cheddar curds that are curried and tossed in chilli honey. The reverse of the menu is largely given over to more substantial dishes, including a selection of grilled cheese sandwiches and a duo of impressive and likely soon Insta-famous sharing dishes: Kirkham’s Lancashire aligot (mashed potatoes with cheese) with sausages, braised red cabbage and chicken sauce; and a 400g Baron Bigod (a Brie de Meaux-style cheese from Norfolk) baked whole and served with bread, potatoes grilled chicory, crudités and pickles and dried fruit.
To drink: The Cheese Barge’s wine list is brief - space is tight - but is intelligently chosen and fairly priced starting at £5 a glass/£16.50 a 500ml carafe. Interest and variety is achieved by rotating the by-the-glass selections: for both red and white there are two core wines available by the glass and carafe plus one of seven wines that is usually only available by bottle.
And another thing: In a frankly inspired move Carver and team have elected to call The Cheese Barge 'Argie'.