Good Lo­cal

Rita in Welling­ton is unique and in­ti­mate

Good - - CONTENTS - Words Carolyn Ent­ing

T he mo­ment you clap eyes on tiny restau­rant Rita, you feel a mix of en­chant­ment and warm fuzzies; it’s so small it only seats 28 (30 at a squeeze). It’s “in­ti­mate”, co-owner Paul Schrader ad­mits, but that is a big part of its charm.

Trans­form­ing the his­toric 1910 Aro Val­ley worker’s cot­tage into a restau­rant was a two-year pro­ject for Schrader and Kelda Hains (the pair be­hind Welling­ton’s much-loved Nikau café) in part­ner­ship with chef Matt Hawkes. In fact, the first peo­ple through the door at Rita when it opened in July 2017 were Nikau cus­tomers who also hap­pened to be Aro Val­ley lo­cals. (Check out Nikau’s new cook­book on page 29.)

To make the most of the nar­row space, Schrader and Hains had to be clever. Each ta­ble con­ceals a drawer con­tain­ing cut­lery and ta­ble es­sen­tials – a space-sav­ing so­lu­tion. The set menu is cre­ated by ex­ec­u­tive chef Hains, who works closely with lo­cal grow­ers and food pro­duc­ers to cre­ate dishes that are com­fort­ing as well as nour­ish­ing… just like grandma used to make. So it’s not sur­pris­ing Rita is named after Hains’ “in­dus­tri­ous” grand­mother Rita, who co­in­ci­den­tally was also born in 1910.

Mama Rita would ap­prove of the small garden at the back of the restau­rant, grow­ing lemon ver­bena, sor­rel, pars­ley, rosemary, rhubarb and rasp­ber­ries. Hains says her grand­mother was a gardener and back­yard en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist out of ne­ces­sity. There is space for a small amount of com­post and, though food waste is min­i­mal, what can’t be com­posted on site is col­lected by Kai Cy­cle (kaicy­

The ever-chang­ing set menu has three cour­ses, a veg­e­tar­ian op­tion, and those with spe­cial di­etary re­quire­ments will be catered for with ad­vance no­tice. On the day of writ­ing, the menu of­fered up an entrée of raw king­fish, grape­fruit, fen­nel, co­rian­der and Szechuan pep­per; a main of poached or­ganic chicken, leeks, aioli and grilled rēwena bread; and che­r­i­moya and blood or­ange ice, straw­berry sago and co­conut chia.

There are two seat­ings a night, at 5.30pm and 7.30pm. But wait­ing isn’t a prob­lem, be­cause mi­cro­brew­ery Garage Pro­ject is right next door in an­other worker’s cot­tage. And the restau­rant is es­sen­tially one room with the kitchen open to view. “We feel there is a lovely en­gage­ment to be had both ways – ob­vi­ously these guys see­ing peo­ple eat their food and vice versa,” says Schrader. “It’s quite nice to have the theatre.”

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