KOL (“cabbage”) opened in October 2020, billing itself as being Mexican food using British ingredients. Chef Santiago Lastra worked at various restaurants around the world before heading up the NOMA Mexico seven-week pop-up in 2017. It is definitely not a traditional Mexican restaurant, with the chef eschewing ingredients like avocado and even lime. On the other hand, he worked with a British farmer to make a cheese from Oaxaca that is used in the quesadillas. The 54-seat restaurant was awarded a Michelin star in the 2022 guide. It offered a tasting menu at £125 or a shorter one at £90, with drinks pairing at a further £100. The smartly decorated dining room has widely spaced tables, with an additional private dining room downstairs. Head chef and in charge of the kitchen at my visit was Ben Morgan, formerly sous chef at Hedone who had also worked at Viajante. A dozen chefs work in the large kitchen at any one time, including making the tacos from scratch, which is very unusual in UK Mexican restaurants.
The wine list focused heavily on central and eastern Europe because, well, why not? The wine list had just under a hundred labels and ranged in price from £28 to £262, with a median price of £72 and an average markup to retail price of 2.6 times, which is very fair by London standards. Sample references were Heidi Schrock Junge Lowen 2018 at £32 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £18, Attila Homonna Tokaji 2017 at £54 compared to its retail price of £47, and Rafael Palacios As Sortes 2019 at £96 for a wine that will set you back £50 in the high street. For those with the means there was Krug Grand Cuvée 167éme Édition NV champagne at £262 compared to its retail price of £211, and Poderi Aldo Conterno Cicala 2008 at £252 for a wine whose current market value is £138. There are not many wine lists with more wines from the Czech Republic (and indeed Slovakia) than Italy, but they have one here.
After a sip of fermented tomato, beech rose and blackberry, the meal began with a prettily presented courgette and blue cheese tacos called a chalupa. This was flavoured with kombucha (fermented tea) and pistachio mole. The dish had nicely controlled underlying chilli bite and the base tacos had excellent texture, with the potentially strong cheese flavour carefully controlled (16/20).
This was followed by a savoury corn custard with caviar, the custard having a gentle but distinct bite of chilli. I liked the custard but the dish could be improved by using a better caviar. This was Exmoor salted Cornish caviar, and had rather indistinct flavour. It is from a baerii sturgeon, and by chance I had tasted a vastly better baerii caviar just the day before (14/20). The next dish was “aguachile”, squares of steamed squid, resting on top of a squid dashi with aubergine, cobnuts and pasilla chilli. The dashi was pleasant if quite one-dimensional, but the squid texture was edging into chewy territory (13/20).
Better was langoustine taco (which incidentally is just a tortilla wrapped around a filling). The Scottish shellfish was roasted with garlic and sauerkraut and flavoured with smoked chilli and sea buckthorn, resting on a tortilla made from sourdough. I was concerned about the sea buckthorn but this sourest of all ingredients was fortunately used sparingly, while the langoustine itself had good natural sweetness and the tortilla had excelled texture (15/20).
A further taco (at a £25 supplement) was Scottish highland wagyu with cascabel chilli and rosé wine. The beef was very tender, the tortilla again excellent and the touch of chilli just enough to cut through the richness of the fat of the beef (15/20). Purple carrot cecina (a bit like a vegetarian version of beef jerky that had been fermented for over three weeks) came with fermented blackcurrant reduction and a chocolate mole sauce. This was an interesting dish, the cabbage combining surprisingly well with the chocolate sauce (15/20).
The final savoury course was “carnitas”, pork topped with crisp pig skin and herbs, served in a large pan and accompanied by condiments and fresh tortillas. The confit pork cheek came with gooseberry and pear salsa as well as black beans that had been cooked with seaweed and woodruff. The meat had excellent flavour, the crackling added a pleasing extra texture and the tacos was lovely, with the condiments cutting through the richness of the meat nicely (16/20).
The initial dessert was “Nieve”, a s sorbet of jalapeño sorrel and fennel with dill oil, marigold flowers and salt. This was essentially just a spicy sorrel sorbet, which was harmless enough but rather one dimensional (13/20). Finally, “elote” was a kind of sweetcorn cake, using sweetcorn grown in the UK, toasted blue corn with sheep milk yoghurt ice cream and fig leaf. The cake worked quite nicely, and the ice yoghurt cream was quite refreshing (14/20).
Coffee was roasted by Assembly Coffee in Brixton and used coffee grown in Oaxaca in southwestern Mexico. Service was classy, our waitresses knowledgeable and patient, the dishes arriving at a steady pace. The bill came to £186 per person with a very enjoyable bottle of sparkling Riesling. If you shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per person might be around £130. KOL was a very enjoyable experience, with interesting and generally well-made dishes, charming staff and an attractive dining room.
Appreciate the review. What was the sparkling Riesling? Not a type of wine you hear too much about
I think you’re generous with the ££ for value for money here. We paid £235 per person on average (including drinks) for a meal that was essentially six tacos with a couple of amuse-bouche and a couple of mini desserts. This included the (British) wagyu beef supplement (£25 for a small taco!). I could have certainly still have a nice pasta dish from Locatelli across the street afterwards! Regarding the drinks: the waiters seemed to push the cocktail menu - at £14-15 a small margarita, these weren’t cheap. We were never offered the wine list (and admittedly didn’t ask for it). Also worth noting that the service charge added to the bill is 14.5% - so above London average.
Little typo: should be elote, not elope. Great review. I recently visited Mexico City and there are some very exciting things going on with modernist Mexican cuisine there. Good to see it taking hold in the UK too.