Verden, a wine bar that opened in Lower Clapton last year, has been receiving rave reviews in the national press. Throughout, it is described as a locals’ restaurant, and a sign of how far Clapton has come. One review described it as “good for everyone … locals, especially”, while the Independent lightheartedly claimed its owners are here to educate the East End in a good vintage.
Yet Verden is far from being a neighbourhood restaurant. It was opened by a duo who worked respectively in PR and at Mayfair’s legendary and astonishingly expensive seafood restaurant Scott’s. When we went to dine early one Sunday evening, we were seated between a group who’d ventured there from Kilburn and were debating how to get home from the depths of Hackney, and a family who bought their young child a £17 main.
This isn’t to say the food there isn’t exquisite. Verden makes its own charcuterie, changes its mains daily, has a gorgeous cheese selection, and serves around 100 types of wine. Diners sit in an elegant, minimalist interior, with low lighting and a long wooden bar. However, when I asked our server to recommend some charcuterie and wine, he gave us chorizo and an unexciting Vouvray with no further elaboration – two ubiquitous menu items that did little to showcase Verden’s wares.
The highlight of the charcuterie was the lardo: glistening cubes of pork fat layered with sea salt and rosemary. Following onto the mains, there should have been three to choose from, but the restaurant had run out of the lemon sole, leaving us as options a lamb neck dish with braised baby gem lettuce (flawlessly prepared but also not revelatory in any way), and a cold burrata with peperonata that, while also faultless, was hardly suitable for a cold and rainy March evening.
The salted caramel chocolate pot that we finished with was rich, velvety and luxurious, and the wedge of Epoisses cheese had just the right ratio of pungency to creaminess, but we left Verden feeling that something was lacking: standing around the corner from a closed community centre and African takeaway, it lacked the warmth and DIY cheer I associate with Hackney, and as long term locals, we did not feel particularly welcome or at home.
181 Clarence Road, E5 8EE