Editor's note: the last service of this restaurant will be on Saturday 21st July.
Killer Tomato is a no-reservation Mexican restaurant near Shepherd Bush Green. A little excursion into the world of film is necessary to explain the name. It refers to a cult low budget (think really low budget) 1978 science fiction film called “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes”. This spoof horror with a musical twist had remarkably squishy reviews yet spawned no less than three sequels, the first of which starred a young George Clooney. It also inspired the little known Greek film “Attack of the Giant Moussaka” – seriously, I couldn’t make this up.
The restaurant itself started life as a street food venue in east London selling tacos and burritos, and opened in permanent premises in July 2016. Its owner, Matt Paice, had a career in television before deciding to move into the food business. Mr Paice did some training as a chef himself (at The Brackenbury for example). He was inspired by some visits to Mexico to try and bring authentic Mexican street food to London. He has hired Australian chef Reuben Williamson to run the little kitchen at Killer Tomato. Mr Williamson has worked in London for three years at various restaurants before taking up his first head chef position here.
The décor, if that is the word, of the premises, is limited. There are basic chairs, a red neon sign and a few tables alongside the open kitchen. The food arrives in plastic trays and baking tins – fine dining it is not. The menu is printed on brown paper and offers burritos and tacos but is not trying to claim precise Mexican authenticity, with some dishes having Asian touches. To drink there are a few craft beers and cocktails such as Margarita, and some basic Chilean wine by the glass.
Up until I tasted the first dish I was fairly sceptical about Killer Tomato. The general standard of Mexican food in London is execrable, mostly cynical chain restaurants serving basic food to young customers wanting a cheap evening out. However the crayfish tostada that I bit into was clearly an altogether more serious affair. The tostada itself was crisp, the crayfish (from Fishmonger's Kitchen in Brook Green) having good tetture, served with sour cream, radish, coriander, chilli and raw tomatillo salsa, a tart green fruit that resembles a green tomato but is actually part of the nightshade family and is most closely related to the gooseberry. The citrus taste of the tomatillo was a good balance to the crayfish, and the coriander provided an extra lift to the dish, the sour cream holding the elements together. The overall effect was lovely, the contrast of textures and vibrant flavours a world apart from the dull Mexican fare that we have become used to in London (easily 14/20).
Also excellent was fish tacos, cod that had been battered and fried and served with a Mexican take on tartare sauce, along with red cabbage and dill, all wrapped in a blue corn tortilla. The key to the success of this dish was the vibrant sauce, with the textural contrasts of the tortilla, crisp cabbage and fish blending well together (14/20). A charred courgette tacos with aioli and fried onions was pleasant but not quite in the same league, though the courgette managed to pick up a pleasant smoky hint from the chargrill (12/20).
Croquettes had beef brisket that had been cooked for eight hours, and were prepared with tomato, garlic, onion, smoked salt, liquid smoke, paprika and a touch of Tabasco. They were coated in panko breadcrumbs and deep-fried, served with sriracha mayonaisse made from scratch in the kitchen. The croquettes had good flavour and the sauce in particular was excellent, spicy and multi-dimensional (13/20). A cheeseburger taco was based on a dish from Mexico City and was reminiscent of a Big Mac in taco form. Ground beef came with grated cheddar, pickles, tomato, lettuce, fried onions and a sauce of onions, gherkins, mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup, served on a soft flour tortilla.
Burrito was filled with chicken that had been brined and battered, combined with shredded cabbage, sour cream, black beans and a sauce made from arbol chilli (a potent red chilli whose name comes from the woody stem attached to its pod), vinegar and liquid smoke flavouring liquid. This burrito had none of the lettuce or rice often used as a filler in many Mexican joints. The sauce was pleasingly spicy but not overwhelming, the flour tortilla having pleasant texture (13/20).
I was less taken with green chorizo and chips. The main element is from Toluca in Mexico, the green colour coming from chillies and, in this version, green bell peppers in order to dial town the chilli heat. I am not sure about this idea, as I found a metallic flavour note from the bell peppers; it would have been interesting to try the original, spicier version (11/20). The best-selling item on the menu at the time of my visit was the sticky chicken. The meat is coated in a Korean sauce involving sriracha (a chilli and vinegar paste that itself is Thai in origin). This was real comfort food with a spicy kick, the sauce excellent (13/20).
The bill came to £27 a head with beer to drink, and this was for more food than a sensible person would eat. No dishes are priced at over £10. One quirk is that the restaurant takes only credit cards but not cash (this avoids the need for a safe on the premises).
The food at Killer Tomato was a revelation, in a different league entirely to the sad dishes that generally pass themselves off as Mexican food in London. Not everything is “authentic” but that is not the idea – it is a modern take on Mexican food, and very good it is too. The setting may be basic but the thought put into the cooking is not. Do yourself a favour and make a beeline for Killer Tomato if you want to ketchup with some surprisingly serious Mexican dishes.