Rarely is there such a hiatus between eating the meal and delivering a review. Lockdown 2 is to blame and Santiago Lastra, creator and chef of the Mexican restaurant Kol has more reason than most to rain down Aztec curses on Covid-19. I am assuming that he hasn’t used the downtime to alter the menu or the concept of the restaurant, which re-opens today.
It has been a long road of travel, pop-ups, pop-downs, popping round the corner to find local ingredients to stand in proudly for indigenous varieties and, significantly two years ago, a seminal involvement in Noma Mexico.
“Do you know about Santiago Lastra?” I write to my friend John Lanchester who is joining me for lunch. “He is wonderfully handsome.”
“You can tell that he’s good-looking from the name,” replies perspicacious John. The venue inspired by colours, textures and ceramics of Mexico is attractive too, although in what is obviously a massive investment, the services of an acoustic engineer would have been worthwhile.
Tasting menus with a vegetarian option are the order of the day (and night) with five or six courses at £55 or £70. There is choice (one of two items) in the main course, but that decision must apply to the whole table. This doctrinal and financially demanding approach is reminiscent of Noma but the labour intensity — apparent in the open kitchens — sort of justifies what boils, braises, grills, steams and smokes down to a meal of five or six tacos.
Seaweed and burnt chilli broth sets the style of coaxing from chillies much more than just heat. Their flavour spectrum inhabits dishes quite differently, sometimes fruitily. Pistachio mole illustrates Lastra’s determination to adapt Mexican traditions to native produce, but an avocado puree would have tasted better and neither ingredient grows here.
Ceviche fashioned from shavings of raw kohlrabi is, we think, inexplicable. That root is not in possession of enticing flavour and pink mole, pumpkin aguachile and smoked beetroot strive helplessly to compensate for what is so obviously missing — marinated raw fish. But with lemons and limes proscribed, perhaps gooseberries would not have successfully stepped up to the plate…
Two seafood dishes stand out. Langoustines with smoked chilli and sea buckthorn visually and virtually explain its starring role at Noma Mexico. Squeezing the prawn heads for their juice is highly satisfactory. Octopus tentacle marinated in kombucha, briefly grilled and served with glazed bone marrow is another gratifying game to play with knife and scissors and floppy tortillas that arrive in a slightly kinky leather purse.
On December 12, the basement bar Mezcaleria will open, serving Mexican spirits and Antojitos (translated as “little cravings”), intricate assemblies priced from £6 each. Maybe the heady and economical way in.
9 Seymour Street, W1H 7BA (020 3829 6888, kolrestaurant.com) Tues: 5-10pm; Wed-Sat: noon-2.30pm & 5-10pm; Sun: noon-6.30pm. Tasting menus £55/70. Wine pairings £40