LDNReview

Rita’s review image
8.5

Rita’s

££££

49 Lexington Street, London
View WebsiteEarn 3X Points

Growing up with a restaurant is a special thing. Rita’s has been knocking about London for going on a decade now. First in Dalston, back in 2012, when The Alibi was still The Alibi and fried chicken and margarita slushies felt revolutionary. An ex-laundrette on Mare Street was transformed into a raucous spot, before the Cambridge Heath railway arch days (and nights). There were sandwiches in King’s Cross and a pop-up at the Frieze Art Fair. Now, Missy Flynn and Gabe Pryce’s take on American-influenced cuisine has settled in Soho. The napkin-essential fried chicken still features alongside more grown-up seasonal crudités and low-intervention wines. But there’s still a youthful twinkle about Rita’s—and that’s very much a good thing.

Here on Lexington Street it’s all candlelight and Roy Davis Jr playing in the background, a mezcal-happy El Madrina cocktail and homemade chilli water-laden jalapeño popper gildas. The room isn’t exactly big, nor is it particularly elaborate—some counter seats and a half dozen or so tables, including a couple of booths—but it is comfortable. They do their best to put the fun in functional at lunchtime, but dinner is when you want to be at Rita’s. Dating, drinking, letting yourself be doused in the literal and figurative sauce of the place. Most new-ish Soho restaurants come across like a Love Island quip at PMQs, strained and try-hard, but Rita’s has a light touch of confidence that stands out from the corporate crowd.

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Crowded is what Rita’s often is though. You’re just as likely to find a group of Prada loafers and acrylic nails as you are a suede boot or two alongside plates of still-mooing bavette. And the food can be just as mixed. To borrow inspiration from its American-leaning menu, Rita’s is as capable of home runs as it is strikeouts. So-so steak and an overly sugared pork chop aren’t wrong but they aren’t right either. When Rita’s does hit it sweetly, with a bowl of homely clams and Idaho scones, or low and slow pulled pork and Texas toast, there is nowhere else in the city making Americana-style food like it.

Like all of Rita’s various iterations over the years, there’s a strong feeling that this is a labour of love. You’ll get an idea of the quite admirable amount of eating that Flynn and Pryce have put in across the States and Mexico. The research and respect for traditions while also daring to mix things up. It’s that last part that has always made Rita’s so fun. So happy to pair flickering candles and Donati Lambrusco with a cardiac-inducing chicken parmigiana. We may be old and misty-eyed but part of Rita’s charm is in being endearingly imperfect. It’s always going to be young at heart.


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Food Rundown

Rita’s review image

Jalapeño Popper Gilda

Pop. Pop. Pop. That’s the sound of you happily popping these gildas into your mouth with one hand as you slurp something with the other hand. The cream cheese-filled olive is inspired. The kind of thing we’d hand out a Pride of Britain award to.

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Tear And Share Garlic Bread

Can you ever tear something and truly want to share it? Tearing is an innately aggressive and begrudging action. But this Parker House roll topped with luminous green parsley garlic butter and a small hill of parmesan is undeniably made for tearing and sharing. The butter avalanche that occurs once you breach its soft defences is sensational.

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Fried Chicken Roll

The fries, soft bun and shredded lettuce are merely support acts for the main event—that gnarly-looking (read: excellent crispy bits), crunchy, slightly-spicy hunk of fried chicken. A dish that has stayed with Rita’s in one form or another since the Mare Street days, it’s got ‘Nap-Inducing Meal’ written all over it.

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Slow And Low Pulled Pork With Texas Toast

A plate of pig and bread always hits the spot. Rita’s pulled pork—so horribly bastardised by chain pubs and sugary sauces—is magnificent. Tender as you like and topped with a Cajun-leaning spice mix. A tear of buttery and golden Texas toast, topped with that spiced pork, a few strands of vinegary slaw, and pickles on the side. Delicious.

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Sunflower Ice Cream Caramel Sundae

Entirely vegan, entirely delicious, and entirely idiotic if you don’t finish your meal with it. The sunflower ice cream is just a touch savoury and the soya caramel, well, that’s a touch of genius.

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