This City stalwart, run by cheese expert Sue Cloke, is a lunchtime café, evening wine bar and cheese shop - all rolled into one. The perfect place to while away an afternoon with a lump of Pont-l'Évêque and glass of Pinot Noir.
Ledenhall Market is in the beating heart of the City. Designed by the same architect as Old Billingsgate and Smithfield, it has been beautifully preserved as a classic Victorian arcade: ornate steelwork and glass domes, loose-cobbles, racing green shop fronts, and names painted above each one in gold-serif.
Trading has taken place on the same spot where Leadenhall stands since 1AD, though all the big business has now migrated to the offices surrounding the market - with Lloyds, The Gherkin and The Bank of England all stood nearby. The market now serves as more of a souped-up canteen for City workers, with Bedales Wine Bar, Chamberlain's seafood restaurant, and Luc's Brasserie are all acting as enticing watering holes.
Cheese is more informal than some of the surrounding restaurants though. The cheese shop takes up most of the interior, with little café tables spilling out onto the cobbles in front. Don't be misled by the flimsy café tables though, this is a place to enjoy some serious cheese with a serious bottle, and watch the working world pass on by.
Sue Cloke is one of the main draws of Cheese. Once head of Harvey Nichols' cheese department, she knows her stuff, and is usually on hand to offer friendly advice and great recommendations. Incidentally, the butchers next door to Cheese is owned by Cloke's husband, and both places are run with a great deal of love - not just a business - but a way of life.
Although Leadenhall Market can be an intimidating place at lunchtime - particularly for those not dressed in a power suit - Cheese has an informal atmosphere. It welcomes everyone, from the tourist buying a sandwich and taking in the surroundings, to those sharing a cheeseboard and a bottle of rouge over lunch.
One of the best ways to enjoy Cheese is to get a cheese or meat platter (£11.95). Each has a selection of five cheeses or meats, as well as chutneys, pickles and bread. If you spied a particularly tempting cheese on the way in, then ask for it to feature on the platter, and it will usually appear.
Small plates are also available, piled with delicacies from pork pâté to potted shrimp. There's also a Welsh rarebit to die for. Though the small plates are all individually priced, the cost of three plates are rounded down to £15, making it an easy decision to try lots of different dishes.
Regular dishes unsurprisingly have a big cheese-focus. There is croque monsieur, croque madame, and 'Duke' and 'Duchess' varieties featuring tomatoes and egg with tomatoes (£9.50-£10.50). The kitchen also does a good line in omelettes (£7.50), which provide the perfect vehicle for showcasing some show-stopping cheese.
For those after something a little more substantial, there is a small but tempting list of 'plat du jour'. The list usually features a meat dish such as feather blade of beef (£15.95), and a fish dish such as skate (£15.95) - as well as a couple of others to whet your appetite. Sandwiches are also available. And, of course, there is all the cheese behind the counter, which is available to take-away, in case you've spotted something a little-bit-special to jazz up a dinner party cheeseboard.
Although the cheese is a democratic affair - ranging from the humble sandwich to the vast cheese platter - the same doesn't apply to wine. Bottles start at £22.50, which isn't cheap, but for this part of town it isn't that surprising, either. The wine list contains around forty bottles, which is impressive for such a modest cafe. Just as much attention is paid to the whites as the reds, with everything from a Pinot Gris to some big Bordeauxs and Cloke's favourite, Zinfandel. There are also a couple of rosés and good selection of Champagne and sparkling wines - as well as dessert wine, Armagnac, sherry and port.
The Last Word
Some of the Harry Potter Diagon Alley scenes were filmed in Leadenhall Market, and it's easy to see why - it's a magical place. While many of the well-established restaurants are geared toward (and filled with) City workers, Cheese is a welcoming place to sit and watch the world pass by. And all the better done with a line-up of Comté, Mont d'Or and Roquefort laid out in front of you.