27 October 2021

At KOL, a Celebration of Mexican Flavours in 9+1 Parts

Of all the countries I've visited, Mexico is the one that tops my list of places I'd love to return to. When I spent two weeks there in 2015, the food was one of the highlights of the trip, from the street food in Mexico City (and elsewhere) to tasting menus and cooking classes in Oaxaca. It's no surprise, then, that I was muy emocionada to hear about the opening of Santiago Lastra's KOL restaurant in Marylebone almost a year ago. Lockdown and not managing to book far enough in advance meant that I was only able to visit with my parents a couple of weeks ago, but it was well worth the wait.

The restaurant is located on Seymour Street, a couple of blocks north of Oxford Street and near Marble Arch. The main dining room, with an open prep kitchen at its centre, is large and relaxed with décor in earth tones and some rather lovely mid-century furniture. I was also fond of the salt armadillo, a more fun cousin of a salt pig.

As for the menu, in the evening you can choose between six and nine courses — each of which comes with a vegetarian version — and in case that's not quite enough food, you can add in a bonus mole course. In honour of Wolves' Mexican talisman and number 9, Raúl Jiménez, we opted for the whole nueve yards, with the mole. Although most of the dishes are small, you may wish to have only a very light lunch if you're going for all ten; we were very full by the end several hours later. There is also a four-course option for lunch on weekdays.

The menus feature Mexican cooking with British ingredients and a Central and Eastern European wine list. My parents went for the paired drinks menu (mostly wine, but with a few surprises, from kombucha and a rhubarb, mezcal and whisky cocktail, to a dram of mezcal to finish), but although the mezcal pairing sounded fantastic, I wasn't sure I'd make it back to Bermondsey in one piece. Instead, I had an excellent margarita made with mezcal and a sour, salty rim. Later on, I joined my parents for their rhubarb cocktail and their mezcal.

We started proceedings with a few snacks: a comforting beetroot, chilli and mezcal broth; chalupas (fried tortillas) with mushroom, crab, pistachio and fermented gooseberry; and then the most wonderful corn and yellow pepper custard with caviar. Beautifully presented (like everything), the latter was so good, it set a very high standard for the rest of the food. The flavour and texture combinations were so unexpected but worked perfectly.

The next two courses transported us to the ocean: squid with cashew mole and cauliflower, and delicious lobster tacos with chilli. The latter come with pickled cucumber wedges that you squeeze like limes over the tacos.

Up next was the mole. Oaxaca is famous for its seven types of mole; I think I tried most of them while I was there and I even made (well, helped to make) a 17-ingredient one in my cooking class. I was given the recipe, but I have not made it again, so it was very nice indeed to try KOL's mole, which was rich, chocolatey and warming, and was served with cecina-inspired roasted purple carrot and truffle. We were also given some soft tacos, but instructed to use them to mop up the mole rather than make tacos (there would be an opportunity for that later). 

The tostada with trout, a Oaxacan chilli, courgette and berries was probably the prettiest course. I didn't even mind the courgette, which bore no resemblance whatsoever to the overcooked, flavourless vegetables of my youth. The next course was one of the reasons we went for the nine-course menu and it didn't disappoint: halibut cooked in corn husk, mextlapique style, and served with smoked pumpkin and cashew. It was a perfect early-autumn dish.

For the main course, the whole table has to choose between carnitas and whole grilled octopus. We went for the former and finally got to make our tacos from the confit pig cheek and all the trimmings. By this point, we were starting to get full and regretted not quite being able to finish the generous portion.

Finally, it was pudding time. We started with the nieve (sorbet), which was made with sorrel, jalapeño and mezcal. I must admit that the first taste was slightly reminiscent of freshly cut grass, but the chilli and mezcal soon kicked in. Then came the tamales, masa or dough steamed in corn leaves, which took me right back to D.F., where the tamale vendors' calls form a constant track on the city's soundscape. These were served with fig and buttermilk ice cream, a smooth and sweet way to end a delicious meal.

Needless to say, we had a delicious and memorable meal, trying dishes and flavours that pushed us all outside our comfort zone with delightful consequences. The service was excellent and there was a wonderful atmosphere. I'd love to go back for another special dinner, but I'd also like to visit the mezcaleria in the basement, where they serve antojitos ('little cravings' or small plates) alongside mezcal and cocktails.

KOL. 9 Seymour Street, London, W1H 7BA (Tube: Marble Arch). Website. Instagram.

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