Ah, Wellington Winters. Wondrously windy, classically chilly, and right-annoyingly rainy. They make you want to never leave your home, but at the same time, make you crave good food that is warm, earthy and homely. Tuesday night last week was a perfect example of one of these days, and as the day turned into night, my craving for hearty food grew to an insatiable level. Luckily, my needs weren’t going to go unattended – since coincidentally, my sister had booked a table at what I can say is the place to go for a plate of exceptional home style meals – Rita.
There is no better way to describe this place than with the word home. Nobody lives there, yet when I walked inside, I instantly felt like it was somewhere I could happily stay forever (and also eat their food forever). Once inside the cosy abode, their head waiter cheerily met us with open arms and even offered to take our coats for us – I felt like I was at the Ritz! Upon sitting down, we were explained the nights menu (in plenty of detail so we knew exactly what to expect!) – so that diminished the ongoing ‘food envy’ issue that every foodie faces – however I celebrated too soon as I was then asked ‘What would you like to drink’. Dammit. The drinks list was short, so there wasn’t too much decision juggling to be had, and in the end I chose their Damson vodka and soda. What I ordered and what I drank were two very separate entities since my partner didn’t like his drink, so I did what every good girlfriend would do, and swapped drink (turns out I liked his Campari Cocktail better, so that worked for me!).
Right, now that I’ve set the scene – let the degustation dissection begin. Firstly, we were given a little appetite teaser of homemade cheese pastries. These were super deceiving, as the humble appearance of the pastry masked the sheer strength of the delicious cheesy flavour that came from within.
Now that our palettes were warmed up, we were ready for the feast. Our starter was a beautiful garden of roasted beetroot, charred sprouts, crunchy walnuts, crisp parsnip chips, and a beautiful creamy parsnip puree. This dish shone light on some of the most incredible winter vegetables, and one forkful of all these earthy flavours combined was enough to warm my soul from inside out. I absolutely smashed back this dish, and nearly licked all of that puree off the plate (but I then remembered where I was and put the plate back down).
Next, main course. This was a beautifully roasted mackerel fillet with crispy skin, paired with marinated chickpeas, toasted cauliflower, chunky tomato sauce, and a pop of fresh sour cream. Now, I’m just gonna go out here and say it – Mackerel is the underdog of fish, and Rita is proving just how amazing this fish can taste with this dish alone. This plate of food brought together the bold flavours of fruit and vegetables with the strongest flavours of the sea to create brand new flavours to savour. And the bonus? A big ol’ slice of potato focaccia to soak up all those delectable juices so we didn’t have to lick the plate.
3 meals in, you could imagine we were all getting a little full – but of course we saved room for the much-anticipated dessert dish of Rum Baba’s, a rum infused cream, with a stewed sour plum. Hands down this was my favourite dish of the evening, and finished off the hearty & wintery degustation faultlessly. The combination of the rich rum cream, the dense and sweet Rum Baba, with a little pop of sour fruitiness from the plum was indescribably delicious, and I still dream of those flavours to this day. When I say the service is incredible, I really mean it. The waiter overheard my sister saying she’s not a big fan of plums, and came rushing right to the table to offer her some fresh mango instead. How wonderful is that?!
Ah, what a journey! If you’ve made it this far on the ride, well done, and also I think you can agree with me that the degustation that Rita put on for me and my family was second to none. Each course was a celebration of the beautiful fresh fruit and vegetables that grow in Winter, and each dish brought new flavours and textures which elevated everyday dishes that your mum or grandma would serve. For the food, the drinks, the service, and the homely atmosphere, I have to award the guys at Rita a bloomin’ brilliant 9.5/10. Rita has created a tier of its own, and has quite successfully separated itself from any other restaurant category in Wellington. For $75 you can get 3 amazing dishes, 2 complementary sides, and an experience that takes you back to your childhood – so what are you waiting for? Book now!