Tuesday, 17 July 2012
Rita's Bar and Dining, Dalston
Bacon peanut brittle; Pancetta & anchovy wedge; Fish taco; Ox-heart taco; Ginger & soy hot wings, pickles; Chicken roll; Patty melt; Smoked pork & duck heart baked beans; fries. The menu at Rita's Bar & Dining is not so much as if someone had asked me what 15 or so of my favourite things in the world were to eat and then written them down, no, it's more than that. It's as if someone somehow knew what my deepest subconscious foodie desires were and constructed a list of ingredients combined in such a way as to make me wobble with joy. I want this menu read out at my funeral; I want to spray-paint it onto the side of my house; I want to take it home to meet my parents.
Yes, I liked the menu. And I only have my pathetic Saturday evening post-pub appetite to blame for the fact we didn't order the whole lot, so sadly this post will just have to serve as a short teaser of the delights awaiting visitors to Rita's. But based on the handful of dishes we tried, this unlikely spot in the furthest reaches of Dalston will have them queuing down Stoke Newington Road much in the manner of other North-American inspired smash hits across the capital. It really is that good.
I will begin with the only thing that could have been improved - Ginger & soy hot wings had a lovely aromatic flavour but were a little too flabby; perhaps the oil they were fried in wasn't hot enough, or perhaps they weren't deep-fried at all. But accompanying pickles were excellent in that sweet, soft style of US BBQ.
Rita's serve the finest tacos I've eaten this side of the pond, and if that isn't perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay, you'll just have to take my word for it that they tasted every bit as good as you could hope. The fish, crispy and fresh and livened by colourful crunchy pickles and herbs, came on a stunningly authentic-tasting masa-flour (I presume) tortilla, and a ox-heart version paired the same earthy base with some wonderful gamey notes, the meat itself just chewy enough to be interesting. The offal one in particular, in fact, strongly reminded me of something Tacos El Gordo in Chula Vista could have served. How has it taken this long to get tacos right in London?
The Rita's Patty Melt has the potential to be their signature offering, partly - admittedly - for the novelty factor (you must know how these things work by now) but mainly because it tastes so damn good. Dripping with, well, dripping I suppose, and using beef mince with a commendable depth of flavour for something costing only £5 (well aged I'm guessing), this is essentially not much more than a toasted beef and cheese sandwich but absolutely none the worse for that. It's enough to make you want to dig out the Breville and have a go yourself.
The chicken roll (not pictured I'm afraid, we were enjoying ourselves too much by this point) was like a gourmet KFC wrap, served in a brown paper bag for that true High-Streetfood filthy chicken feel, but constructed with care and boasting lovely moist and crunchy chicken. If we are to believe the hype that "good" fried chicken is going to be London's latest street food fad, then this is a good a place as any to start.
OK, I know I'm gushing. This kind of thing just happens to be my personal restaurant heaven, and it maybe won't push everyone's buttons. Dalston is a long way from anywhere, the noise and crowd levels later in the evening do have a habit (so I'm told) of slipping just the wrong side of comfortable, and there was more than the usual element of the braying red-trousered type in attendance the evening we went, in accordance with the oh-so-trendy industrial décor and popup sensibilities.
But if you can't enjoy yourself surrounded by fresh fish tacos and fried chicken and burger sandwiches then you're likely to be missing some vital fun-loving part of your brain, and probably shouldn't be eating out at all. I loved Rita's not just because it's "my kind of thing" but because all the food was just way, way, better, and cheaper, than it needed to be, and everything about the way it was delivered (including the wickedly strong frozen Margaritas - careful with those is my tip) made me smile. And there is no greater compliment than that.