What: A high-end Mexican restaurant in Marylebone that’s been an awfully long time coming. Taking its name from a Mexican word for cabbage, Kol celebrates the ‘intricacies, innovation and diversity of Mexican cuisine and food culture’ but majors on British ingredients with only corn, chillies and chocolate making the journey across the Atlantic.
Who: Former Noma Mexico chef Santiago Lastra is chef patron. He’s now well known in London having been promoting Kol through various pop-ups - most notably a stint at residency restaurant Carousel - and preview dinners for the best part of three years. He jokes that Kol has been ‘about to open’ for the last few years; there were hitches with getting into the surprisingly cavernous Seymour place site, with the build and most recently Covid-19. Now the restaurant is open he’s able to laugh about what must have been a rather frustrating and directionless period and looks both thrilled and relieved to finally be cooking in his own kitchen. Marco Mendes and Jake Kasumov of MJMK restaurants - whose projects include piri-piri chicken mini-chain Casa Do Frango and Bermondsey’s Vinegar Yard - are Lastra's business partners and have been closely involved in the project throughout.
The vibe: The ground floor is home to the main 56-cover restaurant and a large fully-open kitchen while a large chef’s table and a standalone bar can be found downstairs. Overseen by A-NRD Studio, the interiors see a rustic, warm and homely Mexican aesthetic given a contemporary international twist with clean Nordic lines and British craftsmanship. Some objects have been sourced from Mexico - including art works and vessels and pots crafted by indigenous communities - but most of the actual tableware has been created by British artisans.
The food: Lastra’s sourcing policy is somewhat analogous with that of his former employer, which famously only served food sourced from the Nordic region. With the exception of the previously mentioned corn, chillies and chocolate - which can be shipped over with minimal environmental impact - everything comes from the UK. That means many fresh ingredients that would be considered as being absolutely essential in Mexican restaurants aren’t available - not least limes and avocados. Lastra must find British ingredients to stand in, resulting in some unlikely sounding but quite brilliant dishes that never feel like a compromise. Anyone that’s not convinced need look no further than Kol’s langoustine and smoked chilli tacos, in which sea buckthorn provides the acidity that would normally come from citrus fruit. Kol offers three relatively short tasting menus: a five-course one for £55, a six-course one for £70 and a five-course vegetarian menu. All include bites, ceviche, tostada and a choice of two main courses with the more expensive menu throwing in a taco and a different brace of mains. Other dishes from the launch menu include a ceviche made with kohlrabi, pink mole, pumpkin aguachile and smoked beetroot; tostada with seared lamb leg, guajillo mayonnaise, wild herbs and corn crisp; and squash sorbet, rattlesnake chili and mezcal.
Langoustine taco, smoked chilli and sea buckthorn
To drink: Overseen by Matt Varona (ex-Carousel) the wine program focuses on the often overlooked but increasingly fashionable wines of central and Eastern Europe. This allows Kol to offer considerable bang for buck and challenge preconceived notions about what the area’s lesser known wine producing countries - including Slovakia, Croatia, Georgia and the Czech Republic - are capable of (a very great deal, it turns out). The restaurant has worked closely with the Slobodne winery in western Slovakia to create four exclusive and relatively affordable wines (white, skin contact, rosé and red) that come in one litre bottles. As you’d expect, Kol mixes a mean (mezcal) margarita and offers an extensive selection of niche Mexican spirits. The restaurant’s bar - Kol Mezcaleria - will open in mid November with high profile German bartender Maxim Schulte at the helm (he was most recently head bartender at The American Bar at The Savoy).
And another thing: Kol has been worth the wait. As multi-layered as its cabbage namesake, it manages to champion both Mexican cuisine and UK produce simultaneously, which - when you really think about it - is no mean feat. As a number of other chefs have found out, running a successful high-end Mexican restaurant in the capital is not easy, but if anyone can make it work it’s Lastra.
Squash sorbet, rattlesnake chili, mezcal