The tasteful Zhangyuan courtyard a mere stone’s throw from Nanjing West metro station is destined for food and dining success. Tomatito has set itself up in with a ringside seat but may just been a little too rough around the edges for those who know Chef Willy for better things.
Billed as a more casual version of el Willy, Tomatito nestles in a converted shikumen building, rubbing shoulders with a handful of other bars and restaurants, including a bigger Tap House and newcomers like Starling and Black Pepper. The brightly decorated restaurant is a collection of almost cartoony rooms centered around a lively bar. Pop-art flows along the walls, and onto the menus and place settings. While almost everything else about Tomatito is a toned-down el Willy, branding is dialed up to max.
Toned down in price but still action-packed, the menu spans the gamut of Spanish tapas and Latin-inspired small bites as well as larger dishes. We aimed straight for the Salmon TNT (RMB48), a chipotle twist on el Willy’s signature explosive Balik salmon with a formidable and succulent slice of smooth salmon atop a puff-pastry case which explodes upon first bite. A similarly evocative-sounding airbaguette (RMB40) misses the mark: stuffed with cheese and topped with a thin piece of steak, the resulting blow fell slightly weak.
It’s a theme which continues into other dishes. The tapas staples of patatas bravas (RMB25) and pork & chicken croquettes (RMB48) are tasty but not moreish. A quaint tin of vegetables and preserved tuna belly (RMB38) atop crostini lacks pizzazz. The seabass ceviche (RMB65) is overpowered by seafood flavors and pales in comparison to el Efante’s coconut and lime masterpiece.
Having been in soft opening since early July, Tomatito injects a younger vibe into the menu and plays to a slightly different audience than chef Willy’s other establishments around town. It may have friendlier prices but there's some tweaking to do.