I have a little rule about places that get really hyped up and lots of reviews: avoid them, at least for a few months. The pressure that comes immediately after that review can cause crippling demand, make it hard to get a table, and if a place is still finding its feet, can make the service chaotic. Of course, some will cope admirably - but why not wait?
So I waited and waited and finally made it to the much hyped Rita's last week. It's currently operating out of the kitchen at Birthday's - a brash and basic new bar owned by the guys (assuming gender here) at Vice Inc. It's entry to the world - bringing some US style soul food to Dalston - was quickly celebrated, celebrities were snapped, and some dreadful names to describe the cuisine were coined - "bourgeois redneck", "junk food re-imagined".
But my experience last week confirms that Rita's more than lives up to the hype. We ordered a selection of the most celebrated dishes from the menu to give it a proper test - fried chicken in a roll, sticky soy and ginger chicken wings, chilli mac and cheese and mustard greens.
The fried chicken roll was exceptional - perfectly formed roll, the chicken seemed to be a mixture of so so succulent white and brown meat, soaked in buttermilk and with a lovely, crunchy thick breadcrumb. A splash of burger sauce and some crisp iceberg and it was perfect. We loved the way it came in a brown paper bag - a tongue in cheeky nod to junk food reputation.
The mac and cheese was a real highlight - and all the better for green chilli in the sauce, properly cheesy (knocking the Mishkin's mac'n'cheese out the water), and topped with a runny-ish guacamole. That went really well with the flavours, adding a refreshing hit to a very rich dish. Good news: you can make this at home now - Rita's shared the recipe with the excellent Editer magazine.
We were absolutely stuffed, but my friend had schlepped all the way over from Chiswick, so we had to have dessert (and another cocktail, dang). The menu has two pies (in the American sense). My blueberry muffin pie was exceptional - a thin crumb bass, topped with lightly stewed blueberries, topped with sticky, gooey muffin, and then some piped cream. Oh, and some hot maple butter to pour over it. Artery clogging, but so delicious. Celia's key lime pie was only topped with some kind of quince meringue.
We loved Rita's and I'll be back for more. The day after - in fact - I was dreaming of that chicken roll, it's perfect crumbs, the succulent meat. I thought it was fair value too - the portions were decent, and all of that (including two cocktails each) came to £34 with tip (which is shared fully among the waiters if you pay on card).