Eating in London has changed. All over the city, new restaurants are popping up like Butterkist, offering new concepts, new flavours, and unexpectedly amazing food served in the unlikeliest of settings. Currently exemplifying all that is good and great about this shift is Rita’s Bar and Dining, run by Brunswick House Cafe’s Jackson Boxer and Gabriel Pryce alongside pastry chef Phoebe Oliver, London’s hostest with the mostess Missy Flynn and Real Gold’s Deano Jo. Imagine a roadside Southern soul food joint, picked up and spat out on a particularly grimy stretch of the Dalston ‘strip’. The food at Rita’s is that incongruous, and all the more exciting for it.
I wandered down on Tuesday night at 9pm, expecting a half-empty dining room and a quiet evening meal. Erm, not quite. The crowd was spilling out onto the street, Frank Ocean was blaring out of the speakers and the staff informed me that I was in for a half hour wait.
It’s not hard to see the appeal. Thirty minutes pass easily when you’ve got a frozen hibiscus margarita in your hand. Once seated, you choose from a selection of dishes that cost no more than £8. Reasonable prices and small-ish portion sizes justify ordering most of the short menu. The corn comes Mexican style: grilled, coated in sour cream and parmesan, dusted with chilli powder, finished with a squeeze of lime. The crispy fried chicken sandwich arrives in a nostalgic brown paper bag. And the soy and ginger chicken wings are probably the best wings I’ve ever tried – juicy, succulent, and exploding with flavour (that’s what she said). It’s easy to be sceptical about a place that has generated so much hype but in a part of East London where the gimmick reigns supreme, Rita’s is the real deal.