Kol in Marylebone: A journey through the roots of real Mexican food
To put it mildly, 2020 is not the easiest time to launch your first restaurant. But putting it mildly is not Santiago Lastra’s way. The 30-year-old chef’s new venture brings a bit of heat to the capital, serving up authentic Mexican food with plenty of spice and without a single sombrero.
Lastra has been working in professional kitchens around the world since he was a teenager, and having launched Noma Mexico pop-up in 2017, it seems a fitting time to boil his experience down into one concentrated concept. Kol prides itself on showcasing the chef’s heritage using the best cooking techniques and the finest British produce.
The restaurant’s anonymous façade is deceiving: upon entering, the temperature rises as terracotta jugs in earthy, autumnal colours greet visitors with an irresistible warmth. This is matched by the heat of the three-island open kitchen in the centre of the room, which makes the whole space feel more sociable, giving customers an idea of the cohesive collaborative effort going into each plate.
Downstairs, there’s also a chef’s table room with its own kitchen – which, though currently hosting three tables for four people, can normally seat up to 22 – and a Mezcaleria, set to open in a month with Maxim Schulte, the former head bartender of Savoy’s American Bar.
We start off with a customary margarita, which is smooth yet unexpectedly sweet: it’s a friendlier balance that might rekindle a love of tequila for those who have suffered one shot too many, but it may disappoint any purists seeking that dry, lip-smacking finish.
After whetting the appetite with a shimmering broth – it’s apparently a popular tradition in Mexico – of seaweed and chilli, the second “bite” certainly lives up to the name. The pistachio mole is impressive, well-seasoned and creamy despite the absence of “guaca” (avocado) or lime. Considering the delicate presentation, the tooth-cracking corn crisps come as something of a surprise.
The ceviche that follows is an unforeseen highlight. A technique typically applied to fish here makes for an intriguing vegetable-led dish: slivers of kohlrabi sit atop pink mole, swimming in an aguachile that packs the perfect heat while hiding gems of smoked beetroot.
Up next is the langoustine taco, in which the soft notes of the Scottish crustacean marry with the acidity and sweetness of the sauce. The use of the langoustine head is a fun addition: it’s injected with citric sea buckthorn, which we are instructed to squeeze over the taco like a lime wedge.
The tasting menu continues with a seared leg of lamb, slightly overshadowed by a spicy guajillo mayonnaise that, though delicious, harmonises with the tostada a little loudly.
The tri-tentacled octopus makes something of a statement as it arrives at the table. Entrusted with a pair of swanky gold scissors, we are told (and shown by Lastra) to slice the octopus thinly before tucking it into our tortillas alongside several garnishes. The best of these is a roasted bone marrow that melts beautifully. It’s exquisite and the theatre of the dish makes it a really endearing course. For us though, Mexican food is synonymous with feasting, and it would be nice to have another plate to play with.
The staff are passionate about their wine list and keen to engage in real conversation in order to find the perfect match for our meal. Their efforts are not wasted; the four glasses we try are all worthy of mention. The restaurant champions smaller producers, giving space to regions that do not enjoy the same popularity as France, Italy and Spain. A standout bottle is the creamy, skin contact Weisserburgunder 2015 from Claus Preisinger (Austria) and Christian Tschida’s TNT 2018 (blaufrankisch grape, again Austrian), served from a magnum.
The sweet finale puts a refreshing twist on the classic tamale. A warm chocolate cake is wrapped in a corn husk parcel and accompanied by delightful corn husk ice-cream – leaving that distinctive Mexican aftertaste whilst still making for a satisfying dessert.
Lastra’s latest venture showcases a huge amount of skill and offers a cultural palate cleanser for Londoners whose idea of Mexican food has been confused by an abundance of cheese-soaked staples. The chef clearly has a unique touch – and with some focus on the fine-tuning, Kol’s fresh premise really has the potential to free diners of their preconceptions.
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina
To book a table at Kol, 9 Seymour Street Marylebone London W1H 7BA, call 020 3829 6888 or visit their website here.