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Art & Culture / The Hunger

Rita's Bar & Dining

In this column, Ananda Pellerin and Neil Wissink uncover the secret pleasures of the gastronome

Fried chicken roll
Fried chicken roll Photography by Neil Wissink

With a name reminiscent of a roadside soul food shack, Rita’s recently swung the shutters open on its late night kitchen at Birthdays bar and club in Dalston.

With a name reminiscent of a roadside soul food shack, Rita’s recently swung the shutters open on its late night kitchen at Birthdays bar and club in Dalston. The original idea was to create an affordable haven for fried chicken lovers in London – a city with no shortage of outlets serving the foulest of fowl, and a new crop of restaurants overcharging for this comfort food classic.

And this they did. When we first visited Rita’s during the soft launch six weeks ago, we enjoyed boneless fried chicken thighs in buttermilk batter that were exceptionally savoury and tender – on a par with the best we can remember having in the US South. “The idea was to create a menu that was appropriate to a small kitchen on top of a night club,” explains Jackson Boxer, one of the four young friends behind Rita’s. “We wanted it to be an eating house for the young people who live around here who don’t make a lot of money but love food.”

Boxer, who runs Brunswick House in Vauxhall, is joined in the kitchen at Rita’s by Gabriel Pryce, also from Brunswick House, while Missy Flynn, formerly of Hawksmoor, expertly manages the bar and front of house, and Deano Jo, of collective Real Gold, keeps it together behind the scenes. Boxer tells us that while they all loved the idea of doing fried chicken – he’s part American and can remember his grandmother’s own recipe for the stuff – they realised early on there was scope to do more. “We knew we could be more inventive,” he says. “That we could make really interesting food accessible to our generation, which is becoming increasingly food literate.”

"The idea was to create a menu that was appropriate to a small kitchen on top of a night club"

The result is an expanded menu offering creatively conceived bar food, including smoked pork and duck heart baked beans, soy and ginger glaze hot wings served with a teaser of kimchi, and ox heart tacos – a favourite amongst Rita’s regulars, though equally as exciting are the fish tacos, which are by far they best we’ve had in London.

Pryce, who is a filmmaker and lived in New York, says they found inspiration in the USA’s bar food culture. “America’s been doing beer and food well for a while but we don’t have much of that here,” he says. “Also in parts of South America and Asia, especially in Japan and Korea, there’s a lot of beer around their food.”

The Rita’s group, who Flynn says are like an “extended family,” and who are described on their website as a “travelling food and drink collaboration,” will be at Birthdays for at least a year – enough time to get settled and continue experimenting. “We wanted to create something where we wouldn’t have to stop just at the peak, like in the pop-up tradition,” Says Boxer. “And rather than have a wide remit we want to make sure there’s no remit. This project has to be constantly creative or else we’ll get bored, and in my experience as soon as you get bored in your work your standards slip. So we’re determined to keeping ourselves interested to keep everyone else interested.”

Ananda and Neil’s most recent visit to Rita’s was on 9 August, at 7pm. They are open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday from 7pm until late.

Ananda Pellerin is a London-based writer and editor, and Neil Wissink is a visual artist also based in London. More from The Hunger here, and contact The Hunger here.

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