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April 11, 2024

The first rule of Rita’s is don’t bring up the pizza oven

Melbourne Street is set for a new casual-style Italian restaurant, but after buying a wood oven the owners decided to expand its food boundaries.

  • Words and pictures: Claudia Dichiera
  • Above from L—R: Darcy Dawes and Maeve Marryat

Walking into the construction site that will become Rita’s, it’s hard to miss the bright-red pizza oven dominating the open kitchen.


69-71 Melbourne Street, North Adelaide 5006

Opening early May


That, and the large red “pizza & cocktails coming soon” sign hanging out the front has CityMag immediately interested in the menu choices that co-owners Maeve Marryat and Darcy Dawes have in mind.

“Don’t bring up the pizza oven!” Darcy says as Maeve laughs in the background.

“We went through a couple of iterations and we thought we would do pizza for a very long time. We even had a different name at one point [Marg and Rita’s]… we just thought there’s too many people doing it. It’s not a point of difference anymore, and we’re going to leave it for the pros.

“There’s just so many ways you can utilize it for roasting meats, bread, scorching things, using it for service. It is a little bit of a trick though, but we’d already bought it, so…”

“Now we have to use it!” Maeve laughs.

Maeve, who has worked in everything from fine dining restaurants like Fugazzi to casual places like Tony Tomatoes, says she wants to use her experience to “bridge that gap between something incredibly casual like Tony [Tomatoes] and something quite formal like Fugazzi”.

Darcy, who was the head chef at Stem, says he wants to bring a similar style to what he was doing at the Hindley Street institution.

“I don’t want it to be as strict maybe as the places we’ve been before,” Darcy elaborates as head chef.

“I just don’t want it to be as strictly down the middle of ‘we’re Italian food’. That’s our theme, but I’m not afraid to go and branch out elsewhere and keep things fresh and interesting and use local native ingredients as well as traditional Italian ingredients as well.

“Casual, fun, and a little bit more laid back from maybe some of the places we’ve worked at before like maybe Fugazzi.”

“We loved it though,” Maeve says. “We love Fugazzi.”

Rita’s WIP


“I come from a background of lots of Italian cooking, so I did my apprenticeship at Osteria Oggi, and then took what I’d learned there and… continued something at Stem from a friend of mine with a big strong Italian base,” Darcy tells CityMag.

“I want to carry over some of that into here because that’s what I love: I love pasta and I love all that Italian cooking.”

What’s set to hit the menu are a range of different flavours and experimental dishes that challenge the norms of the Italian cuisine.

“I’ve got some beautiful veal tongues that we’re getting from Matchless Food that I’m going to prepare as a pastrami. So brine, poach, smoke, dry rub, cook, and then slice thinly… I haven’t seen it done elsewhere before,” Darcy says.

“We’ve got a beautiful macadamia crab pasta that we’ve been working on.

“Some beautiful burratas that we’re going to be doing with some crispy chilli oil, some broad beans and some scorched veggies and leeks.”

But food-wise, Darcy wants to introduce some Asian flavours as he believes “they work really well into that Italian cuisine”. An example he gives is the mapo tofu gnocchi dish which blends the “Sichuan culture into the Italian food”.

“I’m trying to keep it interesting for me and explore some of those flavours, find out what works and what doesn’t work,” Darcy says.

“Some of the flavours are parallel… and it creates a new flavour that someone maybe hasn’t tasted before and I think that’s interesting.”

Spotted: a hiding pizza oven


In regards to the wine list, Maeve says they’re looking for “locally made Italian varietals and Italian wines” that will pair well with the food offering.

The interiors will mirror an old-school Italian vibe, with warm colours like dark red and orange painted throughout the restaurant.

“Around the corner you’ve got our bar section so there will be seating all along the kitchen and bar area as well with banquette seating… and we will have some outdoor dining as well,” Maeve says.

“It’s going to be beautifully tiled. It’s going to have these gorgeous windows through the top. Lots of seating to see what we’re doing in the kitchen [and] at the front,” Darcy says.

The pair is aware that, as Darcy says, “there hasn’t been anything of note on Melbourne Street for so long”. They want to revive North Adelaide with their new addition.

“I think especially recently, you’ve seen Adelaide hospitality grow outwards as the city is now at its capacity. You’ve got East End Cellars opening up in Norwood, Anchovy Bandit and Bandit [Pizza & Wine] in Unley, you’ve got Alt Wine Bar in Hyde Park,” Maeve says.

“It’s really nice to see but there’s nothing on Melbourne Street and there hasn’t been anything on Melbourne Street in so long.

“A bit of a fickle place I think North Adelaide. So it’ll be interesting learning what clientele we get walking through the door but I think it’s definitely an area that needs a little bit more revival.”

Rita’s is located at 69-71 Melbourne Street, North Adelaide with a planned opening in early May.

Connect with the business on Instagram for more.

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