Back in 2012, when pop-ups were springing up faster than Olympics refuseniks, pop-up Rita’s caused something of a stir with its winning mix of quirky bar food and inventive, alcohol-heavy cocktails. It’s now found a permanent home in a long, thin two-floor space on Mare Street between a launderette and one of Hackney’s ubiquitous fried chicken shops, and has wisely retained the trademarks of its first outing; friendly, un-attitudey staff serving an odd but appealing international cuisine mix that takes in spiced noodles with pig’s head ham, fried cheese, meatloaf with onions, and crispy roast duck. There’s a partyish feel to sharing such unusual combos, and some impressive cooking: notably in Rita’s signature fried chicken; in a dense, deep fish stew; and in a starter of ox tongue with a black bean puree.
A couple of party poopers – soggy pepper squid and hot soy ginger hot wings, both slathered in gloopy sauce that bore few traces of heat, ginger or pepper – tried to spoil the fun on our visit, but were shouted down by elements zinging on the plate and a quirky feel carried through to drinks like a Frozen Rita – a tequila Slush Puppy with hibisucus and lime – served in a paper cup, and prosecco served in an old-skool tumbler. Rita’s has clearly found its proper place; the night after our visit a friend Instagrammed a pic of her dulce de leche beignets with foie gras, which sum up Rita’s: it shouldn’t work, but it does.