Food & Drink Interviews
The Revue: Missy Flynn
Apr 14, 2023
Welcome to The Revue, where we ask some of our favourite people about some of their favourite things. The art, music, food, objects and philosophies that matter the most to them.
Restaurateur and co-founder of Rita's in Soho, one of our favourite restaurants, Missy Flynn explains why she collects cult cookbooks, how she came to own a special painting, and shares a few tips for creating the perfect margarita.
1.) Where to eat in New York…
We ate at Le Bernadin for our first meal of a recent trip to New York. A 12:30 lunch table on a cold-but-sunny afternoon in NYC.
The restaurant had coincidentally just been awarded four stars from the New York Times on its 50th birthday, but we had booked because of a fascination with chef and co-owner Eric Rippert. It was amazing to see a legendary 'old school' place provide what actually turned out to be great value, quality and experience after so many years. Excellent service and quite relaxed for an institution! We had lots of fun.
At the other end of the spectrum, we had an incredible meal at an Egyptian sea food spot in Astoria queens — raw fish all displayed over ice, choose what you want and how you want it with an incredible spice marinade, along with flat breads, bean dip and the freshest, most vibrant salad.
Everything in between was varying levels of enjoyable, as is always the case in New York, I think!
2.) I collect…
I have a degree in publishing, so books have always been a fascination of mine. I particularly love old cookbooks, this ‘lo-fi’ style that, often, come from community organisations and cults. A good friend of mine is an expert on cults, and they all tend to have books on food. The ultimate coercion, back in the day, was based around dining. Feed people propaganda, so they have all these cookbooks about body maintenance and how to eat.
I look out for them online, and there’s a really good Oxfam bookshop down near the British Museum. Anything with a side binder piques my interest. They now feed into our design language here.
Our designer, Molly, who started out working in Bodega Rita’s, often uses them as references. I love the lo-fi approach, and they’re so fun to look at, particularly when compared to modern cookbooks.
3.) My favourite tequila…
I always use Tapatio, which means 'To dance' in Spanish. The family are the crux of the industry and I think it’s good to support them over here. There’s a personal element, too. I visited them in Mexico a few years ago, and I'm fondly reminded of the distillery whenever I smell the tequila.
We get a lot of people who say they hate tequila, but if I pour you a shot of this, I think you’ll enjoy it.
4.) An item that means a lot to me…
I love homemade gifts, and this incense holder was made during one of the many pandemic lockdowns by a family member. It’s just a brilliant design; a person reading a book with a belly button incense holder. Sadly now one armed, but still very fun to look at at, and as I burn incense almost constantly, it’s a very appropriate gift!
5.) How Rita’s came about…
The thing about Rita’s is that we didn’t land on something that is fixed and permanent, because we, my partner Gabe (co-owner and head chef), and I are not fixed or permanent. I started when I was 24, and now I’m 35 –– things don’t stay the same.
Having this space in Soho feels so special. An old listed building right on one of the best streets in the city.
In terms of references, it’s semi-formal dining, but with a dive bar attitude. We want something that is genuinely good. It’s about people’s jobs, what do they want to get out of it? What do guests want?
The building is known as a ‘tough site.’ Lots of people looked at it, and walked away, but how could you? It just required some creativity to make it work. We love sitting in here for hours, moving around tables, and getting different experiences in different parts of the restaurant. Each little corner feels completely unique.
6.) My favourite piece of classic design…
A bit lowbrow, maybe, but the Volkswagen Golf GTI MK 1 Cabriolet for me is 🔥
7.) My uniform…
I like to always be Restaurant-Ready, which can be a little bit restrictive and definitely helps support my habit of wearing too much black.
Slightly wide legged trousers, or a good jean (a la Drake’s) ideally with pockets for all the ephemera one acquires on the floor: corks, pen lids, order pads.
A sleek, comfortable shoe and a shirt, or a good knit. It's not hugely adventurous, but it's reliable. And bow in the hair, if I'm feeling frivolous!
8.) How I acquired this painting…
Michael McGregor messaged me a couple of years ago to say that he wanted to meet and do a painting for us, which was a great surprise. I’d admired his work for a while, and always loved his hotel doodles and menu stuff.
We were on holiday at the time, but when we got back there was a knock on the door, and it was Michael with these two massive canvases, which he gifted to us. One of them was of the devilled eggs that we serve, which was so thoughtful, but I had to point out that ours have sesame seeds on them. He rushed back to his hotel room to add some 'sesame seeds' to finish things off, which was hilarious.
What I love about having his work here is that so many people come in and say, “Michael, I know Michael!” He seems to know everyone. The most recent example is Chris Kontos, who has been a great supporter and always drops in when he’s in town, and immediately recognised the painting. It’s not about networking, but being connected in a natural way. People love his art, and him as a person. He has that kind of personality.
It’s nice to have something genuine and down to earth here. It’s a bit like going to a friend’s house and them having something beautiful and homely on the wall.
9.) The secret to a great Margarita…
We use hibiscus, and instead of a salt rim, we shake the drink with salt. It gives it some salinity, but you’re not drinking through a mouthful of granules. Those small details make a difference, but the core spirit has to be great. You should always use a tequila, or a spirit more generally, that can be drunk neat or in a cocktail. You can’t use shit ingredients and hope to come up with something special.
10.) My current favourite piece of art…
It's a relatively new acquisition, but a former employee of ours, Ashley Gentile, came to Rita's in Soho as a last meal of sorts before moving to America. I believe he's in New York now, but before he left he bought this platter to the restaurant as a gift for Gabriel and I, which was so touching. I love it. He was an excellent bartender too.