Aro Valley’s new eatery Rita sits at one with its community. Step inside the intimate space and discover its understated style
Rita: The new Aro Valley eatery nestled in a 100-year-old worker’s cottage
Rita is a new restaurant in a former worker’s cottage in Aro Valley, Wellington. You might be familiar with its owners – Paul Schrader, Matt Hawkes and Kelda Hains are behind Nikau Cafe, which they opened in 1998 in City Gallery Wellington.
Nikau is a daytime cafe; Rita is a night-time restaurant. The latter seats 30 and offers a set menu for $65 (salt-roasted beetroot, say, followed by Longbush pork, broth, dumplings and watercress, followed by a kiwifruit and olive-oil sorbet). There are two sittings, one at 5.30pm and one from 7.30pm. “Even in a two-hour bracket you can have quite a story or a narrative,” says Schrader of the approach. “It’s quite hard to create that ordering off a menu.”
The trio had their eye on the house – built in 1910 – for a few years, so when it came on the market last year, they bought it, and Schrader’s wife Mary Daish set about a lovely redesign, focused around an open kitchen and dining room. There are long bench seats upholstered in green wool, and cork-topped walnut tables that contain little drawers with cutlery. “The approach was to keep the architectural ideas understated and simple, to provide a backdrop for the vibrancy of cooking and eating,” says Daish.
The work of local designers is found throughout the dining room, including ceramic ware by Teresa Collins, a wall graphic by Sarah Maxey, art by Tom Mackie and Yvette Velvin, and an origami-style cardboard light by Sarah Black of Blacklight Design. “The space is very domestic in scale and it’s about creating elements to house and show off these lovely things,” says Daish, who used art works to create spaces and atmosphere in the dining room.
Above all, the design honours the small neighbourhood house – by night, it glows warmly, a dining room that’s part of the street and connected to the tight-knit Aro Valley community. More restaurants should be like this.
89 Aro Street, Aro Valley,
Words by: Simon Farrell-Green. Photography by: Bruce Foster.