New & Noted: Tomatito

What: More happy Spanish tapas from Guillermo “El Willy” Moreno Truellas
Where: 2/F, 99 Taixing Lu, near Nanjing Xi Lu. Tel: 6259 8671

Why: It’s the brazen (ok, drunken) little sister of elEfante

Tomatito is one floor down from El Ocho (Willy’s new cocktail lounge), but that didn’t stop the Spanish restaurateur from making a well-stocked bar the first thing you see when you walk into the tapas joint. Spanish bites are the primary reason to make a reservation here, but with a drink menu that stretches the length of its food menu - both are expansive - you’d be remiss if you didn’t pair your small plates with a sip of the good stuff.

Start with an aperitif (RMB 30-50), on the menu under the instructive heading of “While you are waiting”. Punctuality is not the strong suit of Spaniards and if you’re anticipating the arrival of your dining companions, a glass of rebujito (RMB 45), sweet sherry topped with mint and Sprite, will keep you company.

Once your party has arrived, it’s best to get convivial with one of their pitchers, a steal at RMB 85 for a liter of Asahi or RMB 175 for Sangria. A very short list of wines by the glass is a good indication that the drinks, like the food, are meant to be shared. Bottles of Spanish and Chilean wine run the gamut of pricing, from RMB 180 - 1,300, and the bargain bin end of the list is delightfully drinkable.

The bang for your buck extends into food, and you can ask for smaller portions of the tapas to maximize your tasting pleasure. Even with that concession, you’ll still be hard-pressed to try something from every menu category in just one sitting.

From the frituras section, don’t miss the tigres (RMB 25), a trio of mussels diced and dripped with béchamel then fried in a golden crust of breadcrumbs and topped with dollops of homemade mayo.

The undisputed winner from the huevos portion was potito. Organic eggs softly poached low and slow are the ballast for a jar stuffed with rich foie gras and truffled eggplant. Stir, and eat straight from the spoon for a decadent bite you won’t believe has only cost you RMB 38.

Several of the dishes come from the Chef Alvaro Ramos’ mother, and after one bite of her delicious albondigas (RMB 48, meatballs in tomato sauce), we feel sorry for the woman who ties the tattooed chef down – she’s got big shoes to fill. (His grandma’s recipe for pork & chicken croquettas has us dying for a dinner invitation to his family home too.)

As can be expected of any El Willy restaurant, the kitchen is dealing with acrush of curious diners, and occasionally the overwhelming demand affects the meal. In the Rotos I (RMB 55), yolks of the broken fried eggs were hard set, making mixing them up with the potatoes and Iberico ham a job that was less messy than we had hoped for. However, the dish’s baby squid that at first glance sounded like an afterthought saved the day with its seasmacked tender tendrils.

Save room for Willy’s reincarnations of beloved Spanish childhood snacks in the form of Donettes (RMB 40), mini moist cake doughnuts glazed in chocolate, and Bollycao (RMB 40), warm brioche stuffed with gooey Nutella. Have another sip of wine, and admire Willy’s Shanghai expansion plan. We’re looking forward to Dumbo Bar in his Donghu Lu complex next.