KOL Mexican Restaurant Review: Marylebone, London
One of Mexico’s greatest cultural exports, aside from Frida Kahlo and el Dia de los Muertos, is undoubtedly the country’s food. But despite its diversity and complexity, many of us know the cuisine as tough tacos, flabby street burritos, tired Old El Paso kits, or even more down-at-heel: Tex-Mex.
A chef flying the flag for authentic Mexican cuisine in all its complexity is Santiago Lastra of KOL, the only Michelin Star Mexican Restaurant United Kingdom.
The richness of Mexican cuisine has long been admired by food writers such as Diana Kennedy, who has spent years researching and chronicling Mexican cuisine. However, his work is better known in the US, and breaking the common misconception that Mexican food is cheap, happy and one-note is still going strong here in the UK.
Lastra is in a good position to help drive the Mexican re-examination. He has an exceptional pedigree, having held top positions including Mugaritz in San Sebastian and Hija de Sanchez in Copenhagen, before accepting an invitation to return to his native country and launch Noma Mexico in 2017. Lastra became René Redzepi’s right-hand man, spending a good year researching and sourcing ingredients from around the country before the world’s most praised modern restaurant opened its pop-up to rave reviews.
After this experience, Lastra returned to the UK to open KOL in London as a showcase not only of the tradition and history of Mexican cuisine, but also to demonstrate its evolving character. The long-awaited opening led to Michelin recognition, which anyone who has dined here knows is well deserved.
That’s partly because the experience of visiting KOL is both extremely upscale and utterly laid-back. The restaurant is laid out so that each table overlooks the buzzing, open kitchen, positioned in the center of the room. Here, chefs in ocher t-shirts and black fangs perform the dance of an elite kitchen, arranging plates, cooking on exposed burners and adding last-minute frills.
A Map of Inventive Wonders
The menu offers six-, eight-, and nine-course tasting menus, with little to choose from, though there are optional add-ons you’d like to take or exclusions available if you have dietary preferences. No matter what you choose, the meal always opens with a welcome broth, in our case a deliciously olive brew with a scotch bonnet-shaped, Douglas fir-flavored fiery edge.
Our next dish featured star calamari, sliced to provide the texture of coconut meat. A clever sleight of hand that our server said was meant to convey the feeling of eating coconut on a beach in Tulum. Many courses evoke aspects of the House of Lastra in this way – with a little story, a historical detail or a flight of Mexican fantasy to contemplate while you chew.
From there, a langoustine taco with smoked chili and sea buckthorn arrived with the head of the crustacean to press on your taco before eating. Not for the fussy, but with utterly delectable results.
More inventive wonders follow, including a rich chocolaty mole served with a cecina-inspired roasted purple carrot. But while the dish is certainly clever, Lastra’s inventiveness is always in the service of flavor, rather than being deployed to produce showy Instagram bait.
The highlight of the meal however was the grilled whole octopus with sweet bone marrow, which crackled like creme brulee. He arrived with scissors to tackle the beautifully baked tentacle and a KOL branded pouch containing warm tortillas. A dish so delicious it made me plan my return before the meal was even finished.
Since the launch of KOL, Lastra has been awarded GQ’s Best Chef 2021, KOL has been recognized as one of the top 20 restaurants in the UK in the National Restaurant Awards, and number 73 in the world, in the top 100 of the list of acclaimed international restaurants The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. An advertisement worthy of the breadth and depth of Mexican cuisine.
Six courses for £90, or add an extra £65 for paired drinks or £95 for paired Mezcal. 9 Seymour Street, Marylebone, London W1H 7BA; kolrestaurant.com