In Review

KOL restaurant review: a tour of Mexican cuisine past, present and future

Extremely high-end and entirely casual, KOL is worthy of its Michelin star

KOL Mexican restaurant in London

One of Mexico’s greatest cultural exports, aside from Frida Kahlo and el Dia de los Muertos, is unquestionably the country’s food. But despite its diversity and complexity, many of us know the cuisine as hard tacos, flaccid high-street burritos, tired Old El Paso kits or more debased still: Tex-Mex.

One chef flying the flag for authentic Mexican food in all its complexity is Santiago Lastra of KOL, the only Michelin-starred Mexican restaurant in the UK.

The richness of Mexican food has long been admired by food writers such as Diana Kennedy, who spent years researching and chronicling Mexican cuisine. However, her work is better known in the US, and breaking down the common misconception that Mexican cuisine is cheap, cheerful and one-note is still a work in progress here in the UK.

Lastra is in a good position to help drive the Mexican reexamination. He comes with exceptional pedigree, having worked in high-profile roles including at San Sebastian’s Mugaritz and Copenhagen’s prestigious Nordic Food Lab, before accepting an invitation to return to his homeland and launch Noma Mexico in 2017. Lastra became Rene Redzepi’s right-hand man, spending a good year researching and sourcing ingredients from across the country before the world’s most lauded modern restaurant opened its pop-up to rave reviews.

After that experience, Lastra returned to the UK to open KOL in London as a showcase not only for Mexican food tradition and history, but also to demonstrate its evolving character. The much-anticipated opening led to Michelin recognition, which anyone who has dined here will know is well deserved.

In part, this is because the experience of visiting KOL is simultaneously extremely high-end and entirely casual. The restaurant is arranged so that every table has a view of the buzzing open kitchen, positioned in the centre of the room. Here, chefs in ochre T-shirts and black crocs perform the dance of an elite kitchen, arranging plates, cooking on the exposed burners, and adding last-minute flourishes. 

KOL Mexican restaurant in London

A menu of inventive marvels 

The menu offers six-, eight- and nine-course tasting menus, with room for few choices, though there are optional additions you may like to take up or exclusions available if you have any dietary preferences. Regardless of what you choose, the meal always opens with a welcome broth, in our case a deliciously olive-coloured brew with a hint of fire in the form of scotch bonnet and scented with douglas fir.

Our next course starred squid, sliced to offer the texture of coconut flesh. A clever sleight of hand that our waiter told us was intended to convey the feeling of eating coconut on a Tulum beach. Many of the courses evoke aspects of Lastra’s home in this way – with a small story, historical detail or flight of Mexican fantasy to contemplate as you masticate.

From there, a langoustine taco paired with smoked chilli and sea buckthorn arrived complete with the crustacean’s head for you to squeeze over your taco before eating. Not for the squeamish, but with entirely delectable results.

Other inventive marvels follow including a rich, chocolatey mole served with cecina-inspired roasted purple carrot. But while the dish is certainly clever, Lastra’s inventiveness is always in service of flavour, rather than being deployed to produce showy Instagram bait.

The highlight of the meal however was the whole grilled octopus with sweet bone marrow, which cracked like creme brulee. It arrived with scissors to tackle the beautifully cooked tentacle, and a KOL-branded pouch holding warm tortillas. A dish so moreish it had me planning my return even before the meal was finished.  

Since launching KOL, Lastra has been awarded GQ’s Best Chef 2021, KOL has been recognised as one of the top 20 restaurants in the UK in the National Restaurant Awards, and number 73 in the world, within the top 100 of acclaimed international restaurant list The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. A worthy advertisement for the true 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

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