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July 11, 2024
Habits

Rita’s is mixing it up at North Adelaide

Rita's brings a mix of Italian and Asian to Melbourne Street.

  • Words: Claudia Dichiera
  • Pictures: Jack Fenby

When we step inside Rita’s it is just days away from opening.

Remarks

Rita’s
69-71 Melbourne Street, North Adelaide 5006
Tue—Sun: 5pm ’til late

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A group of future front-of-house staff sit on high stools on a communal table while they taste test dishes being handed from the open kitchen by co-owner Darcy Dawes.

Co-owner Maeve Marryat invites CityMag to take a seat, away from the noise, and says the renovation process has been “stressful”.

“I feel like most restaurant openings, the lead-up is always a bit touch and go it never really happens completely smoothly,” Maeve shouts on top of the noise. 

“But at the same time, it’s been very rewarding and while it’s stressful, you know, it’s going to been great to see it all come together.”

Said venison dish

 

Rita’s opens tomorrow, and patrons can expect food you wouldn’t usually find on a traditional Italian menu.

“We’re cooking contemporary Italian food, but using an Asian pantry,” Darcy says from the open kitchen as he cuts and places venison on a plate.

“We’ve got everything from soy and MSG, to rice vinegars and different kinds of powders. We’re attacking it as if it’s an Italian menu, but using everything that we have in our resources in terms of dry stock ingredients, as well as fresh ingredients to try and elevate it and look for something different.

“[We’re] very much trying to incorporate Asian flavours into what we’re doing — using that umami bridge between the two cultures cuisines to close the gap between them and make it function well and taste really good.

“Not in that horrible fusion word that we’re trying to avoid. But just something that works naturally well with it, not trying to force it into a hole that maybe it doesn’t fit.”

 

Ingredients they will use to bridge this gap are dried fish and bonito mixed with tomatoes and anchovies to “meld the two cuisines together”.

“There’s the burrata with Chinese chilli oil, but with some beautiful Ligurian focaccia that we grind in salt water like they do in Italy,” Darcy says.

“So we’ve got really, really beautiful venison backstrap from Matchless Foods that we’ve seared off with some lemon myrtle, brown sugar and a little bit of thyme — using those native Australian ingredients when they work.

Other things set to hit the menu include pasta such as cacio e pepe and fresh crab, along with scotch fillets paired with burnt onion jam, and double pork chops in a shared style menu.

Dom working his magic

 

Curated by bar manager Dom Barr, the cocktails also have an unorthodox approach that includes “fun weird” options.

“The fundamentals of the cocktails are supposed to be based on Italian-style drinks because we are an Italian restaurant. But they do have a few bits and pieces that are chopped and changed around, just like the food menu, to add a bit of funk and flavour to things,” Dom says.

These cocktails range from an oyster shell martini which is “the drink version of when you’re just sitting down eating an oyster” to a Rigazzi spritz which replaces Aperol with an aperitif.

There are two sections to the cocktail menu, the reader’s classics (but with a twist) and Rita’s signature cocktails that have been designed “from Dom’s brain”.

“I get bored of making the same generic stuff over and over again,” Dom says. “It’s stuff that I feel passionate about and just keeping things fun and interesting.

“I’m always learning [and] trying to do different bits and pieces. I flip through cocktail books every single day…the backlog of cocktail ideas in my books is astronomical. Some are good, some are bad.”

Alex Bellas’ work on show

 

The space, designed by CTRL Space, has hints of red with earthy tones. 

“And then for artwork, we’ve got local artist, Alex Bellas, who has designed large amount of prints based off old Italian posters,” Maeve says.

“A lot of it was just seeing what worked in the space. I mean, you don’t really know until you’re in the space what’s going to work.”

Maeve says the opening process is completely different when it’s your own space, having previously worked at Fugazzi and Tony Tomatoes.

She explains “it’s all the little things” that the general public doesn’t realise when it comes to opening up a restaurant.

“So I was a part of the Fugazzi opening but I guess it never really was as much responsibility as I currently have with this project. I was just a bar supervisor for opening up for Fugazzi, which is a very different beast of a venue — that one is very impressive and massive,” Maeve says. 

“But it also had a lot of people in that opening team that was very helpful. Here is a bit different because we’re smaller. It’s kind of a lot on Darcy and I, which is fine, but it does put a lot of pressure on us.”

Rita’s is at  69-71 Melbourne Street, North Adelaide and is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 5pm until late.

Connect with the business on Instagram for more.

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