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Popular restaurant goes it alone after pop-up success

Rita's new permanent location on Mare Street in Dalston  pic: Chiara Rimella

Rita’s new permanent location on Mare Street, Hackney. pic: Chiara Rimella

It’s been over six months since Rita’s waved goodbye to its temporary pop-up home inside Dalston venue Birthdays, and the time has come for its four directors to welcome old aficionados and passers-by to the restaurant’s newly opened location in Mare Street, Hackney.

Its Fried Chicken rolls rode the recent greasy-yet-cool trend, reaching the Evening Standard’s 2012 restaurants list, pleasing young hipster taste buds and even winning over some food critics. The team at Rita’s have settled down with a new look and a few innovations on the menu.

“We always knew we wanted our own place,” said Missy Flynn, one of the restaurant’s directors. “I think we outgrew the space; six months in we knew we wanted to move on.”

The queues outside the pop-up restaurant  testified to how popular Rita’s had become, but for its stable home the directors wanted to expand even further on their “fast-food revisited” identity.

Since Andrew Clarke, former head chef at tapas restaurant Salt Yard, joined the venture, the menu has expanded to encompass more restaurant-style dishes. Flynn described it as “Asian cuisine, extreme salty tastes and flavourings”.

Yet the American influence remains: “People have an easier understanding of American fast food,” said Flynn. “It’s an easier entrance into restaurant-style food because people are now used to gourmet burgers. But we felt there were enough burgers in London.”

Chicken still seems to be the favourite order, together with the house staple hibiscus-flavoured frozen margarita. The bright red drink served in a paper cup may remind some of slush puppies on the beach (and surely the palm tree oddly poised at the entrance reinforces the perception), but the generous tequila content and the sharp sourness make the drink far from child-friendly.

The drink is also one of the reasons behind the restaurant’s name – none of the four directors answers to the title.

Flynn explained: “The name Rita’s came up also because we wanted to channel our personalities and decided to embody them in a fun, crazy East End aunty who gets drunk and takes you round the area…we thought her name should be Rita.”

This neighbourhood feel is admittedly important to the team since they have decided to use it as a strapline for their restaurant. “We haven’t earned the title of Hackney’s ‘neighbourhood restaurant’ yet, but we would love to be,” said Flynn. “It would be the biggest compliment”.

It looks like Rita’s is keen to shake off its stereotypical young East London character and broaden its demographic. “We’d like to appeal to everyone,” said Missy, “people in the area, families…”

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