I fell in love with Rita’s at first sight and first bite.
First sight, because the interiors and atmosphere are lovely. Just round the corner from London Fields rail station, Rita’s is the kind of place you risk to overlook if you walk fast down Mare Street, looking for big neon-lit signs and blackboards on the pavement. That would be a real shame, for behind its tiny, unassuming front there’s a gem not to be missed. A narrow-ish gallery leads into a spacious dining room, with simple white furnishings and unobtrusive lighting. Add soft background music, and you’ll get a comfortable, relaxing ambiance: the type you seek and cherish after a long day at work, when the mere thought of walking into your kitchen and fixing yourself dinner is enough to send you into a state of despair.
First bite, because the food is brilliant. It keeps you wanting more, even when you know you’ve already had more than enough. The best way to enjoy dinner at Rita’s is leaving your guilt feelings at the door, and hoping they’ll tire of waiting for you to get out: a comfort food binge lies ahead, of both the most fulfilling and naughtiest kind. If your guilt feelings are resilient buggers like mine, and keep reminding you of unpleasant truths while you look at the mains on offer (“You haven’t exercised in years. This is the third time you eat out this week. You still want to fit into those skinny jeans, don’t you?”), do what I did, and choose a couple of small plates instead. Making your pick will be no less challenging, but that’s because the starters and sides are all extremely attractive. Halfway through the menu, I was craving the Sicilian meatballs with currants and pine nuts, eyeing the cheese croquettes, lusting after the hot chicken wings – and that was way before I started looking at desserts. Narrowing my wishlist down to a selection that suited both my appetite and budget felt like utter, yet necessary cruelty. No one ever said that life is fair.
Available with a choice of three sauces, the Hot Chicken Wings come in a deceptively small portion. At first sight, the tiny bowl they come in might give you the impression you’re being robbed of your £6; you’ll feel much differently once you get to the bottom of it. Rita’s signature Black Sauce comes highly recommended by the staff, and it’s easy to see why: a tad more sophisticated than the alternatives on offer, it adds complexity to the flavour of the chicken, kicking off with strong notes of soy sauce that leave way to a pleasant ginger aftertaste. I’m usually all for BBQ sauce, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying my wings – and eating up all the leftover sauce by the spoonful. Meanwhile, Emma and Alex worked their way through the gigantic Patty Melt Deluxe: a feast of beef and onion marmite, sandwiched between two slices of bread, oozing melted cheese and bone marrow butter from all corners. Its sheer size is enough to satisfy your wildest comfort food cravings, and give you plenty of good stuff you can save for another meal (Rita’s staff will be more than happy to store your leftovers in a doggy bag, if need be).
With my chicken, I ordered the Crispy Fried Crushed Potatoes. Soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside, they are the heartiest potato side I can recall having at a restaurant. Like the wings, they come in a small bowl you can nibble from at a leisurely pace, without worrying the potatoes will get cold and floppy in the long run. I enjoyed them so much, I couldn’t get myself to be bothered by the sour cream topping (usually one of my food pet peeves, this time a minor accident in an otherwise perfect dish). Much as I disapprove of the menus that don’t list the ingredients in each recipe, I’m glad the sour cream came as a surprise: had I known about it, I’d have ordered something else, and missed out on the brightest highlight of my meal.
However contained in size, the chicken wings and crushed potato halves filled me up to the brim; still, skipping dessert was not an option. I couldn’t resist the temptation to try Rita’s beignets (fancy French word for deep-fried doughnuts); it’s easy to set aside all fears of waking up the size of a house the next morning, when you sink your teeth in their soft dough, lighter in texture and sugar than your average store-bought doughnut. Wonderfully rich in caramel, the dulce de leche cream could well be a dessert in its own right; if you gave it to me in a jar and handed me a teaspoon, I’d polish it just the same. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can order an extra helping of grated foie gras with your beignets; more of a kooky pairing than a necessary flavour enhancer, for both the doughnuts and the cream are flawless as they are. By the time you get to the last bite of your meal at Rita’s, you’ll be in food heaven. Bordering food overload, if you’re a hopeless glutton like me, but heaven nonetheless.
Rita’s Bar & Dining
175 Mare Street
London, E8 3RH
(nearest train station: London Fields)
Open 18.00 – 23.00 Monday to Friday, 12.00 – 16.00 and 18.00 – 23.00 Saturdays, 12.00 – 21.00 Sundays
020 3096 1530
See the menu on Zomato