I've been excited about Verden since I first caught wind of it opening, and I've been excited about writing this blog since I first visited it a few weeks ago. Spoiler alert: Verden blew me away and I hope I persuade you to check it out and be blown away too.
It's hard to believe that just two and a half years ago, none of the pubs in Clapton had gastrofied. Now there are only a couple left that haven't. Back when the Clapton Hart dolled up, this place was boarded up, having been shut down in its previous guise as the Cricketers after intervention by Hackney Council.
Verden is the most 'grown up' of Clapton's new bars. Inspired by the wine bars of Copenhagen, one of the key people behind it is a former Maitre'd at Scotts in Mayfair, and its offering is based around the trinity of exceptional wines, cheeses and charcuterie. This isn't about showing off drinking champagne. These are people who are deadly serious about wines, cheeses and sliced meat and have gone to the bother of finding the best to share with us punters.
The decor matches the grown-upness. No shabby chic nothing here. It's all crisp, clean lines; black, white, grey and some gorgeous wood. Big windows draw in all the light upstairs on a sunny day, and the basement's deep grey walls, low ceilings and pendant lights make for a futuristic, Scandi revision of the speakeasy.
I've been to Verden twice since it opened: for an evening and for brunch. Our evening at Verden was special - making our way through the meat and cheese and wine menus. We were there for almost four hours, drinking and grazing at our own pace, before sharing a couple of main courses and three desserts between the four of us.
One of their most understated achievements is balancing a meticulous and expert sourcing of wines, cheeses and meats without any kind of sniffy pretension or assumption that diners know their way around these worlds (and judgement if they don't). The menus have lots of well priced options on (glasses of wine start at £3.50, as do cheeses and meats), and short descriptions tell you everything you need to know, so you're not ordering in the dark. I've been to bars with a similar premise which are a lot more intimidating - and that's to seasoned diners like me.
There is a short menu of daily dishes available - for when the wine you've drunk hasn't quite been soaked up by the cheese and meat you've nibbled on. Actually, that's unfair - the food is excellent, with delicious salads (we might have had the tomato one twice it was so good), and typically at least a meat, a fish and a vegetarian dish, as well as some desserts.
We had a crispy confit duck leg with perfect lentils and a charred lettuce. It was a classic done well, and the duck generously sized too. My friends shared a weighty green salad with delicious curded cheese.
The desserts were perhaps the most impressive. We loved the savarin brillat cheesecake with apricots - the cheese making the cake so much more pungent and punchy, offset beautifully with the sticky apricots. A brilliant night.bread and butter pudding with rich vanilla ice cream was warming and satisfying.
Back for brunch a fortnight later, the quality was that notch above the standard Hackney brunch (which is already quite high). The bloody mary was great, with a delicious cornichon and caperberry adorning it. Not too boozy that it'll bring last night back to you, but enough to help you ride it out.
The brunch menu builds on the well-sourced meat they stock for their boards, with exceptional morcilla sausages, iberico, bacon and smoked ham. I went for their rendition of the classic ham, egg and chips, which consisted of two massive slices of amazing ham, perfectly fried egg, and the dreamiest, richest roast potatoes you can imagine, glistening with crystals of salt and thick with the good oils they were cooked in.
The iberico hash with salsa was excellent too, as was the morcilla, bacon and egg.
It was nice to see the space in the full light of day, and Ed Wyand's hostelry makes it a very relaxing, welcoming spot to have a leisurely brunch with friends.
Verden is the gift that keeps giving - all the cheese, meat and wine is available to buy from their cold store downstairs, and you get 10% off on presentation of your receipt. I know I'll be back many times over the coming years to stock up on killer cheeses (the 28 month aged comte in particular), and to bring friends to show off what a perfect establishment we are lucky enough to have on our Clapton doorstep.