Every now and again, you go to a restaurant where everything fits together perfectly – the food, the service, the whole experience. There are places that become regular favourites, that we visit often and sometimes forget what draws us there, and then there are new places that you wonder why you hadn’t been to before because surely they should be on your favourites list too. One such place is Rita, where we dined on Saturday.
Rita is a small but perfect little restaurant nestled away in an old workers’ cottage on Aro Street, close to Garage Project and Arobake. The restaurant opened in 2017, and is owned and run by Kelda Hains and Paul Schrader (who previously worked together at Nikau Café next to the City Art Gallery in town).
The tables are set with large, soft napkins, and after seated, we were handed our handwritten menus. Rita offers a daily changing three-course set meal, with extras that can be added. The menus are based around local, fresh and seasonal produce, and show case a range of flavours and ingredients. When you book, you can state if you have any allergies or would like the vegetarian menu, and I confess to writing that neither of us like beetroot…a fact that naturally brought a smile to our host’s face.
Cheese straws, of the lightest possible puff pastry, were brought to the table while we waited our first course. Such a simple thing that just has to be executed well (unlike my last attempt which we shouldn’t even really mention).
The first course was mozzarella and lonza on a bed of crisp romaine lettuce and broad beans, with croutons and a tarragon dressing. It was a perfect mix of salty and creamy, against the crisp leaves and excellent dressing.
Cutlery is kept in the drawers of the table, a lovely touch that is an excellent solution to stop small tables being crowded with silverware. The menu and wine list are also popped there once the orders have been taken.
Our main course on Saturday was lamb, served with one of my favourite things, little turnips or navets, and a flavourful, slightly spicy sauce. We ordered the cucumber salad to have on the side, which I have to say I loved. The crisp contrast to the lamb, the combination of cucumber and pickled radishes (you can just see it below) was a true burst of summer flavours. There was bread on the side to mop up the delicious gravy.
Dessert was a grapefruit tart, served with a yoghurt based ice-cream and a few blackberries. The three flavours and textures combined so well together: the tart, the sweet, the creamy, the crisp.
The two wines we selected were both good too, making the whole experience one to remember. My only issue was why we hadn’t been there before, a question I really can’t answer, but I know we will be back.
Footnote: the final picture is the back of the restaurant and the door to the bathroom, which is worth visiting in itself!
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