Rita's Bar and Dining, temporarily of Dalston Junction, has just re-opened on Hackney's Mare Street. I only visited their previous incarnation once; perhaps it was nerves from being on a second date, but I found the experience somewhat stressful. The room was big and bright, brash, noisy and smoke-filled. I left smelling like a grill, drunk on frozen margaritas.
Their new spot couldn't be any more different; it's all clean lines and dim lighting, a long narrow room with an open-plan kitchen, and a further basement dining room. From what I remember, the preceding menu had a Mexican-ish slant - here, vaguely Asian, a smattering of the Med, a nod to America. Spiced lotus root crisps, crunchy and salty, accompanied my well-balanced and all-too-easily-drank sour cherry bourbon concoction. It's not immediately clear from the menu what portion sizes one can expect, but we were guided through it gently by the patient staff.
From the specials board, the steak tartare was made with the flavoursome bavette cut, chopped finely for tenderness. Seasoned with fish sauce and ponzu, little rounds of chillis interspersed within were little firecrackers. A clever take on the traditional, and one I enjoyed very much. A plate of house pickled onion, daikon and cucumber went unexpectedly well with them, the strong punch of vinegar counteracting the richness of the beef.
We were back on track with a behemoth plate of fried chicken. For £19, half a bird portioned up is served with a pot of honey and a pot of sausage gravy. A typically Southern styling, the gravy was like a peppery bechemel with bits of sausage in it. The chicken itself (once I recovered from it being hotter than napalm) was encased in crisp salty batter, the flavour further enhanced with the chicken skin having been removed, crisped, powdered and dusted over the chicken pieces. Hello, my new Ultimate Fried Chicken. I abandoned the honey in favour of the ginger-spiked treacle the wings had been served in, pleased as punch that I happened to be positioned nearest to it.
I topped the chart for Potential Heart Attack with a few spoonfuls of green chilli mac and cheese, carefully navigating around the scoop of guacamole on top, for I am adverse to the hot, or even warmed avocado. Fine, fine comfort food.
Stuffed to busting, I insisted to the table (we were three) that we had to try the beignets with dulce de leche and foie gras. It's foie gras. In a dessert. With doughnut-ty things. Given what we'd just eaten, I'm not entirely sure what possessed me. The caramelly, toffee sauce smeared all over the hot beignet (this is becoming porn territory) was jolly nice, though I didn't detect much of a foie gras flavour. Perhaps for the best, given my now-protruding belly.
We ate handsomely for £40 / head, including service and a couple of cocktails each. I'll be back. Maybe for brunch. Whenever really, as long as that chicken is on the menu.
Rita's Bar & Dining
175 Mare Street
London E8 3RH
Tel: 020 3096 1530
They take reservations!