Tomatito turns the tapas bar into a young, fun, and sexy space
Chef Willy Trullas Moreno marks Manila as the upbeat second home for his Shanghai-born restaurant
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“I love how happy the people in this country are. It’s amazing,” chef Willy Trullas Moreno of the Shanghai-based El Willy F&B Group says as we sit down with him at his newest venture. I suppose it really is easier to feel at home, especially when you’re surrounded by happy faces, and there’s good food—the kind that tastes almost like the ones back at the motherland—that goes around for everyone at the table to share. Chef Willy confesses as much. Perhaps we can owe this kindred connection to history and our formed culture. But perhaps our innate hospitality and our capital’s bustling city life also plays a part in making Manila the obvious choice as the second home of Chef Willy’s Tomatito.
Named after the famous flamenco guitar player Jose Fernandez Torres and literally meaning “little tomato”, Tomatito is an ’80s inspired tapas bar first opened in Shanghai. The Manila arm however, goes beyond being an imported replica. Dubbed by the chef himself as Tomatito 2.0, this tapas bar sees a different scenery and ultimately a different type of dining crowd.
“It’s about one-third bigger than the place in Shanghai. In Shanghai, it’s smaller. It’s in an old building, a 1920s house. Here we have high ceilings, it’s more industrial. This—” Chef Willy grins, “—is the next level.”
While Tomatito Manila retains much of the original bar’s look (it’s also designed by Chef Willy’s brother, who with his design firm MTM Design, is also behind the design of the chef’s other culinary ventures), its overall location and space lends it a different feel.
Harking back to its Shanghai origins, large neon lights spelling out the bar’s name hang over the semi-open kitchen, bathing the dining area before it in red. String lights and green tiles—also seen in the first branch—also make an appearance, with the latter used here as the top surface of several tables. To add a more Spanish flair, representations of the cuisine find their places along the walls: empty tins of Spanish tuna, vermouth sifons (an icon of Spain’s bar culture), and even paelleras.
But if there’s really anything in the bar’s decor that says Tomatito is younger, sexier, and more fun than its brand relatives, it’s the flamenco dancer’s costume—complete with rows upon rows of polka-dotted shoes and fans—and the matador’s jacket. “[Dani (Aliaga, one of his business partners)] was stalled at Customs, you know,” Chef Willy says, noting that Tomatito’s decors were flown in, bit by bit, from Spain to Manila. “They asked him, ‘Are you gonna kill a bull or something?’”
Not much is changed for Tomatito Manila’s menu, Chef Willy says. “A lot of the dishes are the same, but a lot of others, we tweaked, portion-wise. In China, people are not into big portions. But for Filipinos, it’s always about sharing,” he says. His partners’ experiences in running Spanish restaurants in the country reflect in the menu and even in the kitchen.
For Tomatito’s meat dishes, a special oven, which uses a mix of gas and wood, is installed. “We know Filipino people love meat,” Chef Willy says. But more than the meat, it’s the paella that has proven to be the instant hit. “We also have four fire stations just for paella. Filipinos love paella. On just our first two days, we put out so much [because a lot of people ordered it].”
Tomatito’s fame however doesn’t lie in its adherence to the traditional forms of the cuisine. The menu also includes dishes with other Latin influences. The Tiradito de pescado blanco—or tanigue tiradito—for example, which features thin slices of tanigue served in green chili sauce made from local chilies, olive oil, ginger, lemon oil, corn, and shallots, has Peruvian origins. Meanwhile the Presa, a dish of grilled pork served on a bed of rice, has Mexican mole on the side, adding a spicy and at the same time nutty, almost chocolate-like flavor to the meat.
You can also opt to start your meal with the Salmon TNT, which, true to its name, results in an explosion of flavors in a single bite. Served in four bite-sized pieces, smoked salmon is placed on top of a bread “pillow” filled with sour cream and truffle honey.
Cap off your meal with drinks from the bar—such as the Spanish-inspired cocktail, El Pirata: a strong concoction of aged rum, Kahlua, coffee liqueur, sugar, and chocolate bitter, with orange twist and coffee beans thrown into the mix. You can also ask their bartender for a customized gin and tonic (like our friends from Preen.ph did here).
Alternatively, if you’re torn between ending the night with drinks or dessert, the Panacota de vainilla con fruta de sangria is a happy medium. Surprisingly (or perhaps, as expected), the punch pairs well with the sweetness of the vanilla panna cotta, while the watermelon and strawberry bits and orange crumble add another layer of texture to each bite.
Tomatito offers both food and drinks, making it perfect for a night out with friends. The Salmon TNT is true to its name—the flavors, a mix of salmon, sour cream, and truffle honey, literally burst in your mouth. Also try the sangria panna cotta for dessert.
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