Do you call it dude food or man food? Junk food, or just lunch? I’m talking about the hot dogs and tacos that are clogging the city’s arteries and crammed into every lifestyle supplement at the moment: the burgers and lobsters of Burger & Lobster; Mark Hix’s kamikaze poultry at Tramshed; The Player’s Lucky Chip sliders.
For me it’s guilt food. I don’t mean that in a dieting sense; I’m not thinking about my waistline or balancing the calorie count with the miles I promise myself I’ll run tomorrow. I just mean I usually feel a bit wrong about two thirds of the way into eating it. This kind of salted, saturated food is so tempting and so quick to eat, its pleasure payoff so instant, that you can’t help but overorder, go at it with deranged gusto, and then want it out of your sight – and belly – before you’ve even finished.
This compact cycle used to only apply to the chain restaurants and the early hours – that 2am trip to blend six pints with a Big Mac before bed – but it’s snuck into daylight and more respectable establishments, and was in full force round Rita’s place.
Within minutes our table at the pop-up dining project currently at Birthdays on Stoke Newington Road was littered with the spoils of unfettered gluttony. I blame the prices, which hold tight below a tenner on the whole, or perhaps the blackboard menu, which not only includes every junky joy imaginable but sees sold-out items ceremoniously crossed out to incite panic ordering. Anything but me, anyway.
By the time we’d knocked back four small but punchy margaritas (two of which were struck off the bill for tardiness which is always a nice touch), the pair of us were looking at the ravished remains of sticky soy and ginger chicken wings (delicious), Southern-fried chicken in a sweet bun served in a paper bag (also delicious) and numerous ox heart and fish tacos (tasty, but icy cold and wetter than Ed Miliband).
It was the patty melt that tipped me over the edge though. Coming hot on the heels of a so-so green chili mac cheese it was a formidable hunk of meat sandwiched between caraway-packed rye bread and lathered in pungent and overpowering cheese. It was a dish that needed to look in the mirror and take one item off before coming out of the kitchen and so dense with competing flavours it finally sent a ‘one-in, one-out’ message to my brain. We were at capacity.
I’d overeat at Rita’s again and again, though. It may be a hipster hive – the ladies wear tatts and the men denim hot pants, and every other guy looks like he’s in TV On The Radio – but as I mentioned last time, this is largely irrelevant. I’m just saying, in case you go and get scared by them. It may have had teething troubles with the temperatures during our visit and it may lull you into a food coma requiring an intravenous juice cleanse to bring you back to life, but when the food is this alluring and the alternative is something like Saf, I’ll be back.
And I’ll still go the full Adam Richman at any new venture that will care to have me – someone remind me to try the KFC Nacho Stacker next time I’m battered – despite the fact that somewhere in my fishbowl memory head I know it’s wrong, and that David Mitchell has just said junk food impacts on your IQ. I tried to read the full article but got distracted by something or other.
Price per head: Under £20
Clientele: It’s in Dalston