On the table: Verden
Author: Sophie Thorpe
For a south London resident, Clapton isn’t the most convenient dinner destination. While a 10-mile cycle home might offer the chance to work off six courses of indulgence, my vinous inclinations mean it might also result in a visit to A&E, and restraint in the face of a wine list… well, it’s a question of professionalism. So it has taken me a while to make it as far east as Verden, despite its taunting ubiquity on my Instagram feed.
Basking in a little pre-supper sun on Hackney Downs, I was able to settle into pre-arrival menu musing, an essential stage for the indecisive, but something that – for those for whom a good menu is a form of sustenance in itself – offers hours of satisfaction (not to mention salivation).
With soaring ceilings and clean-cut design, the main dining space manages to feel both homely and gloriously airy. When I arrived, the last few shards of evening sun were glimmering on the glassware, a siren-song for the bibulous if ever I saw one.
A bottle of Hambledon’s delightfully greengage-laden non-vintage Classic Cuvée offered the perfect opener, a celebration of the first days of summer (which seem a little distant in the current downpour) and the perfect revivifying refreshment. Alongside, we gobbled steaming anchovy fritters, cooled only by a slathering of squid ink mayo and sips of fizz. The sweetness of courgette and batter tempered the moreishly salty fish, while the bracing English acidity cleansed the palate rather perfectly.
Sampling just one of the items from their extensive charcuterie and cheese list, we tried the carne salata from Lombardy, unbelievably tender, almost silky, salted and smoked beef silverside that was ethereal and intense. Alongside the crusty bread and creamily salted butter (the first hurdle for any establishment to leap, which was cleared with plenty of room here), the meat also came with some of the tastiest, most bulbous capers I’ve ever laid eyes on.
Whipped broad beans, goat’s curd & harissa provided a change of pace, a generous plateful that was clean, cool and soothing with just a spike of spice to create a calming, almost soulful moment in the meal.
Next, in swooped the mains: sea trout, asparagus, samphire & crab bisque felt both earnest and indulgent, the luscious, fragrant bisque sating my greed while the decent level of sweet and salty greenery offset its richness to a tee. Of course, I also helped myself to a decent chunk of roast wood pigeon, fresh peas, lardo & pickled radish, which sat neatly alongside a bottle of Arianna Occhipinti’s extraordinarily tasty Cerasuolo di Vittoria that has a habit of slipping down rather easily, its juicy sour-cherry fruit a perfect partner for the sweet, gamey meat.
The service was just casual enough to feel relaxed, but polished enough that not a moment was wasted wondering when the next dish would arrive or where that bottle was. Not that you would have guessed, but the charming duo which owns the joint were those running to the kitchen, pulling the pints and pouring glasses that evening – happily playing to a crowd who seemed equally content with their lot.
While it may not be local to me, Verden was cracking. Great food with a compact little wine list comprised solely of irresistible options; it’s an establishment that raises the bar for E5’s eateries. If it was just round the corner, I’d be popping in most nights – a glass of Prüm, or Duncan Savage’s Follow the Line, a slither of Wigmore, perhaps a little more carne salata… dinner would be sorted. As it is, I’ll have to go back for pudding, just to make sure I have a complete picture.
What we drank:
- Hambledon, Classic Cuvée, Sparkling, Hampshire
- 2010 Grotte Alte, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Occhipinti, Sicily, Italy