I’d been recommended Rita by the lovely folks at Pasture so my expectations were set high. After pre-dinner drinks at the impressive Hanging Ditch, I toddled along the road to the cute little neighbourhood in which Rita’s inhabits a prime spot in a little parade of shops on Aro Street.

The welcome was extremely as I suspected it would be following a lovely email inviting me to dine with them a little earlier than I had planned, if that suited. They also followed up with a thank you email the next day. It typified the hugely friendly approach to how they do everything.

I was seated at a lovely table in the window. Front of house manager Caroline then wrote the menu for the evening down for me having revealed the little notepad alongside all my cutlery for the evening in the table’s concealed drawer.

This evening I would be starting with aspargus, then beef short rib, and dessert would be a surprise. There were some additional items to add to this set list, which sounded good so I had them all.

We started with a couple of radishes smeared with red snapper rillettes. This was deliciously fresh and flavourful stuff.

We followed with a dish of sweet little scallops served with fennel in various forms. Again, this was packed with flavour and prepared with care.

Next was a farinata, an Italian chickpea pancake. This was topped with Spanish Ossau-Iraty cheese and caramelized onions. This was outstanding. It felt like a virtuous little pizza and is a great gluten-free option.

We then moved on to the asparagus which was served with toasted quinoa, stracchino cheese and mint leaves. This was beautifully fresh with the cheese light and fluffy.

The main course of short rib beef topped with a lovage gremolata and sitting on char-grilled kohlrabi was another winning dish. The beef was ridiculously tender and succulent. The accompanying dish of broad bean leaves was a good, fresh foil.

The surprise dessert was a rhubarb and lemon shaker pie topped with elderflower and goat’s milk ice cream. This was a real country kitchen classic, packed with charm and warmth.

Through the meal, the wines had been well thought-out from a short, carefully curated list. I rounded out the evening with delicious Averna over ice.

So overall, Rita served me a lovely meal in such warm and welcoming surroundings. Rarely have I felt so completely at home and relaxed in a restaurant. Creating that kind of atmosphere is no small trick. The food is highly accomplished and bursting with freshness. It’s an absolute must-visit on any trip to Wellington.

Blythe scores Rita
4.5/5 for food
4/5 for presentation
4.5/5 for service
4/5 for setting
giving an overall 17/20

I ate: snapper rillettes on radish, scallops with fennel, grapefruit vinaigrette, asparagus, stracchino, mint, toasted quinoa, farinata, ossau araty, caramelized onion, short-rib, char-grilled kohlrabi, lovage gremolata, broad bean leaves, rhubarb and lemon shaker pie, elderflower and goat’s ice cream

I drank: bubbles, verdicchio, gut oggau atanasius, gewurtztraminer

I wore: maroon and orange and blue

Total bill: $181

Address: 89 Aro Street, Aro Valley, Wellington 6021

Written by BKR