Santiago Lastra on finally opening the doors at Kol

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Chef Santiago Lastra on finally opening the doors at Kol

Related tags: Mexican cuisine, Fine dining, Restaurant, London, Chef

The former Noma Mexico chef is at last in the kitchen at this eagerly awaited Marylebone restaurant giving top-notch British ingredients the high-end Mexican treatment.

Kol has been a long time coming. How does it feel to finally open the doors? 
It feels pretty great. The restaurant has been delayed for three-and-a-half years. The construction team finally got access in December but we had to wait until February before we could start and then Covid-19 hit. For a few years, Kol has been 'opening in a few months' so it's always been really close to happening in my mind. It also means that I've been busy promoting the restaurant and cooking for people at various locations. We've spent a lot of time building the brand. 

Are you opening the same restaurant that you planned to all that time ago?
No. Things change over time. The core concept is the same - it's still a Mexican restaurant that uses British ingredients and the focal point is still freshly-made tortillas - but there have been a lot of tweaks. We were originally going to do two restaurants in one (a casual place and a more high-end one) but we've changed our mind about that. 

Tell us about the site... 
It's a big space, but I did not want to oversee a 300-cover restaurant. We wanted to curate the experience. We have three different elements: a 56-cover ground floor restaurant with an open kitchen, a downstairs chef's table that offers a more expansive version of the main menu with some newer dishes and a downstairs mezcaleria (mezcal bar). The latter is opening in November and will serve a separate menu.   

Where is the restaurant pitched? 
It's casual and contemporary fine dining. I guess the menu is quite short for a chef of my background. We wanted to tailor it to the London customer. We didn't want to have a concept and try and find people to like it. We tried to do it the other way around and create a restaurant that a lot of people would like. Londoners don't have loads of time to spend in restaurants. We also want Kol to be accessible and somewhere people go to have a good time, not just to eat. 

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Tell us about the menu...
It will be very seasonal. I've had a lot of time to work on it because we've had a test kitchen in a West London house for the last year or so. We've had a lot of chefs, critics and other journalists come in and give us feedback on the dishes. In the main restaurant, the meal will start with small bites before moving onto a ceviche course, a tostada course and a main course served with salsa, pickles and freshly-made tortillas. Currently the two options for the latter are roasted skate wing with achiote, cabbage puree and clams; and confit pork cheek carnitas with cabbage leaves, gooseberry and pear salsa and black beans. The dessert at the moment is squash sorbet with rattlesnake chilli and mezcal. 

Presumably some of your ingredients are coming from Mexico...
We are bringing in corn, chocolate and chillies. That's pretty much it. These ingredients are dry and can therefore be transported easily and with a limited impact on the environment. We also want to support Mexican farmers. It's particularly hard for corn farmers working with heritage varieties. Monocultural corn that's grown in huge fields and sprayed with pesticides is much easier to grow and sell. We want to showcase diversity and help people as much as we can.  

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You were a key member of the team at Noma Mexico - will Kol be in any way similar to that? 
The concept of Noma Mexico was to highlight Mexican ingredients. At Kol we will of course be working with British ingredients, but the food will certainly taste Mexican. It was also based in the jungle in Tulum while we are in Marylebone. But one important similarity will be our focus on quality. The main thing I learnt working with the team at Noma is to never compromise on that. 

How involved have your business partners been in the project? 
The MJMK guys (Marco Mendes and Jake Kasumov, who are also behind piri-piri restaurant Casa Do Frango) have been closely involved throughout. I'd met several potential partners before I met them - I even went to investor fairs - but we clicked straight away. We want to create a restaurant that makes tasty food, but we also want a healthy business. That's quite hard these days. 

What are your hopes for Kol?
I want to have a place I can come to every day to cook. I've missed working at a restaurant. We want to make our mark on the London restaurant scene, and I suppose the world's restaurant scene too. For us, the most important thing is to showcase Mexican culture and give our customers an incredible time. That's more important than accolades or being considered one of the best places to go in London. 

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