Every day you put your trust in others, you trust your doctor to look after your health, your bus driver to get you to work on time and your barista to make your coffee just right, but would you trust the chef to choose your three course meal on a night out? The answer is yes, if you're dining at Rita that is.
Rita is Aro Valley's long-awaited new addition, neatly contained in a small worker's cottage in Aro Valley. Built in 1910, the cottage has strong roots in the community and has had many incarnations over the years, Rita being the latest.
Brought together by a trio who are no stranger to Wellington's hospo scene, Kelda Hains and Paul Schrader of Nikau Cafe in civic square and former Nikau chef, Matt Hawkes – Rita was worth the wait.
Named after Kelda Hains' grandmother, Rita is a testament to her namesake's respect and love for food, gardening and lifestyle. It is this sense of passion that you feel throughout your dining experience and a menu that is an ever-changing three-courses, created and inspired by seasonal local produce. My favourite thing about using seasonal produce like this, is that it just tastes better when you know it's local, fresh and grown on our doorstep.
During our visit, we're quickly seated and given a verbal run through of the menu and a docket with three key words – one for each course so that you don't forget. Owner Paul then shows us our cutlery draw, built in to the table, nonetheless.
Our meal started with a whole radish halved and served with flaky sea salt and butter, made with a mix of garden herbs including nasturtium (a flower commonly found in the Kiwi garden) creating a simple but effective amuse-bouche. The crisp freshness of the radish cleansed our palate and prepped us for the flavours that followed.
The next dish was a fresh salad made with new season asparagus, Drunken Nanny goats' cheese and a sprinkling of pistachio nuts. I was thrilled to discover that they had given the perfect amount of goats' cheese to complement every last piece of asparagus.
For the main – key word here was 'Rabbit' – might be slightly out of comfort zone for some, yet the meat was cleverly presented as a dumpling combined with pork and complemented with carrot puree and burnt butter and sage sauce creating a dish that everyone would enjoy. The dumplings were served with a side of braised fennel bulbs saturated in rich olive oil and herbs, finished with a large slice of homemade bread to soak up all that sauce.
From the start, dessert was kept top-secret, so when we were presented with ‘The Queen of Pudding’ we were pleasantly surprised. The dish was a combination of stewed rhubarb and grapefruit, served under a layer of custard and topped with petite, fluffy peaks of meringue. It was when the fresh cream was poured on top, that I suddenly felt nostalgic about my grandma and her traditional pudding.
When it comes to the conventional dining experience, Rita isn't afraid to step well outside the box. Perhaps creating moments like this and delivering a truly unique atmosphere is exactly what they set out to do. So, would you trust the chef to choose your entire meal? At Rita, it all starts with trust.
89 Aro Street,
Tuesday – Saturday: 5.30pm – 10pm.