Practically perfect in every way: Rita

The Aro Valley restaurant loved by food critics and locals, that's practically perfect in every way.

rita aro st plates

Where

Aro Valley

Location

89 Aro Street
Aro Valley

"Rita is what you get when people who really, really care about food open their dream restaurant and design every little thing to be exactly perfect."

This was just one part of Auckland food critic Jesse Mulligan’s rave review in 2018 when he gave Rita a perfect score and rated it not only his favourite Wellington restaurant, but his favourite restaurant in New Zealand.

Matt, Kelda and Paul Rita in kitchen
rita aro st restaurant front
rita aro st restaurant window
Matt Kelda and Paul outside Rita

Rita is owned and run by a passionate trio who previously worked together at Nikau Café at Civic Square, where Kelda Hains' cooking with its Californian roots (she cites Chez Panisse and Zuni as influences) and Paul Schrader's incredibly warm and intuitive service made the café a celebrated Wellington institution. Chef Matt Hawkes joined the Nikau team later and partnered up with Paul and Kelda to create Rita.

Rita is set in an old workers' cottage on Aro Street in a colourfully alternative neighbourhood that is also home to local craft brewery, Garage Project. The narrow space has a minimalist fit-out with beautiful details: the cork-topped tables each have a drawer containing your cutlery and a mural by local graphic artist Sarah Maxey reads 'This heavenly place'.

Rita isn't a drop-in kind of a place, you need to book in for one of the two staggered seatings each night, so that the staff, led by co-owner and maître d' Paul Schrader, know exactly when to expect you. And once you arrive, the rest of your evening can be left in Rita's capable hands.

Rita is what you get when people who really, really care about food open their dream restaurant and design every little thing to be exactly perfect.

Jesse Mulligan, Viva review, March 2018

Before you sit down at your table, you won't know exactly what you'll be eating that night, but be assured that it will be thoughtful, local, seasonal and delicious. Matt explains that surprise is an important element of the Rita experience and something that he and Kelda think about when they are planning the menu each day – it could be by using ingredients that people don't expect or doing something that lifts a dish into an unexpected realm.

While your entrée, main and any side dishes will be explained to you when you are seated, dessert is always kept a surprise until the very end. It could be a just-set rhubarb jelly with a jug of sour cream custard or perhaps a tart made with perfectly ripe stone fruit. Whatever it is, it'll feel just right. Perfect, even.

rita aro st girls drinking wine

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