Verden, restaurant review: Come for the excellent wine, stay for the even better food

Amol Rajan is dazzled by an east London gem

I am staring at a potful of a glistening golden substance that's somewhere between solid and liquid, the colour of a dazzling Caribbean morning, and steaming hot. Aching with hunger, having fasted through a Friday at work in preparation for my latest assignment for these pages, I spoon giant globules of this savoury ambrosia – an amazing creamed polenta – straight into my mouth, without need of the plate before me. And it is a taste sent from heaven.

Porridge-like without the lumps, salty and smooth, yet granular and buttery and succulent, this tiny cornmeal dish has been executed perfectly, and alone warrants many a return visit to the teeming stretch of Clapton, east London, that hosts Verden.

It is the first joint venture between two pals, Tom Bell and Ed Wyand. Bell used to work in advertising and PR; Wyand was head maître d at Mayfair seafood restaurant and oyster bar Scott's, where their chef, Tom Fraser, used to cook.

The decor is understated to the point of being unnoticeable, which has the significant advantage of allowing you to concentrate on the food, and each other. I can tell you that we are in a darkish room, with low lamps over the area between tables, music that isn't excessively loud and a high table where some diners and drinkers are perched.

Presumably they are the punters taking up the owners' offer to educate the East End in a good vintage – because Verden is, in fact, a wine bar, with an excellent list. We shared a dazzling Pinot Noir, light and fruity. But if I were you I'd come for the food, which is simple and outstanding.

The menu is split into meat, cheese, and broader dinner options; a Tuesday night steak menu includes a Moorland Cross bavette with fries and béarnaise or Chimichurri sauce, all for a lip-smacking £12 . From the dinner menu, I choose a fried duck egg with wild mushrooms and spring onions (£11), which is faultless. The egg yolk and mushrooms richly complement one another, and the onion binds it all. Another dish smartly put together is confit duck leg with cavolo nero and blood orange (£15), which is huge, a more than sufficient dinner for one.

I imagine the same is true of the fillet of gurnard with mussels and fish soup at £15.50, but we haven't gone there. That's because the rest of menu is wonderful. Jamon and Guindilla pepper croquetas (£4.50), are crisp without being greasy, with hot tender meat within. The beetroot, goat's cheese and truffled walnuts (£8) dish is exquisite, with a very soft cheese brought to life by the pungent, nutty truffle flavour of the walnuts.

And then there are the meats, split into smoked, salami (house cured) and ham and cured meats. The highlights include a house-cured pork loin with fennel seeds, coriander seeds and juniper (£5), a cobnut and red wine salami (£5.50), and my personal favourite, the excellently named smoked bath chaps. These pork cheeks are from Trealy Farm in Monmouthshire, and couldn't have a better flavour, smoked but not so much as to spoil the meat, and a snip at £3.50.

Verden's other main selling point is its cheese selection: hard, soft, goat, washed and blue. Try the Langres from Champagne (£4), which is washed and has just a hint of spice, the supremely pungent Brie (£4) and an irresistible Comte from Jura, which has a bit of crunch about it, and is again just £4. Among the desserts, a salted caramel chocolate pot (£6) is fantastic.

You may have noticed that not the least of Verden's virtues is that it is quite affordable. It's possible to enjoy a snack-heavy meal for two here for well under £50, if you don't bother with booze. Or indeed take all this home for yourself: Verden is in one sense a glorified (and glorious) deli.

Clapton is blossoming, and Verden proves it. It is principally the work of two young guys who have an entrepreneurial streak, and who have pulled off something remarkable with their debut establishment. I don't think it is going too far to say that Verden already deserves to be a foodie destination, and that in Bell and Wyand we have a future Corbin and King in the making. Though by the time they've opened up their sixth, seventh and eighth restaurants in the capital, they may not be so generous with their pricing.


181 Clarence Road, London E5, Tel: 020 8986 4723. £150 for four, with one bottle of wine

Four more foodie notes from the past week

Kale juice

I know, I know, but when you get to a certain age, you need healthy tonics. This stuff is addictive, and as healthy as they come.

Mushroom risotto

A restaurant paired this with salty scallops. Too heavy, and the combination didn't work; keep it simple and it's sublime.

Veal tonatto

This classic dish has grown on me. It's done best at west London's River Café, but can cost a bomb. Worth it, though.

Chocolate popcorn

I've mentioned this before, but I can't stop eating this stuff in the office. Especially as it's just 230 calories per pack!