I happened to be eating mediocre tacos at a similarly mediocre Mexican restaurant elsewhere in London the night before October reservations for KOL became available. Conversation that night of course turned to other, better Mexican food, and I brought up my plan to try and beat the booking frenzy for the Marylebone restaurant to kick off my first day of maternity leave. The plan was to eat alone, simply so I wouldn’t have to fight for a prime time evening slot, but having friends who are freelancers meant by the time I’d finished my dry chocolate mole dessert, I had not just a plan for a date at KOL, but someone to join me for the feast too.
Chocolate leather seating, burnt orange walls and neutral-toned ceramics decorate the main dining space upstairs, giving a vibe of mezcal on the terrace at sunset. However, being an alcohol-free party, we started with a hibiscus and lemon cooler, the exact same colour but complete contrast to our first dish: fermented beetroot, arbol chilli and mezcal broth. I am a vigorous hater of beetroot in anything other than a brownie, but that’s just testament to my lack of skill in the kitchen. Serve it up to me in any well-respected restaurant (I’m looking at you, vegetarian gravlax at Hisa Franko), and it takes on new life, especially when it’s accompanied with a back-of-the-throat kick like this broth did.
The whole premise of KOL is that it’s Mexican food made with UK locally sourced ingredients, a concept that makes all the dishes have a sense of homely familiarity while still giving a taste of further afield – brought to life by the previous Head Chef of Noma Mexico, Santiago Lastra. Take the chalupa – a small fried tortilla made with masa flour like it’s bigger cousin, but in this case topped with Cornish crab and enoki mushrooms, along with a creamy, nutty pistachio base and tart fermented gooseberries. It means that the beautiful and tender lobster taco with smoked chipotle chilli wasn’t served with lime, as they aren’t grown here, but instead we squeezed cucumber soaked in sea buckthorn juice for citrus freshness.
Seafood was a highlight of the menu, in fact. Scottish scallops were served in strips atop a sesame mole and cauliflower, and the classic Mexican tostada sat over chalk stream trout and pasilla chilli with deep and rich courgette in smoked butter, pinched with sudden tart bursts of seasonal berries. Texture was everything with these dishes – both served up cleverly crunchy, smooth and crumbly mouthfuls.
For our main, a huge deep serving dish with a terracotta pig’s head on the lid held confit pork cheek carnitas and crispy pig skin tortillas. We had the choice between beautifully soft, warm corn tortillas or paper thin cabbage leaves, then topped with our selection of sharp pear and gooseberry salsa, rich black bean mole and vinegary pickled red onions. The name for the onions apparently translates to ‘running dog’s nose’ because of their spicy heat, but I can’t say I had that experience with them, however they were delicious nonetheless.
Our final dish was a sunflower seed ice cream, a warm, toasted aroma and flavour that directly contradicted yet complimented the cold temperature of the dish. Served with edible flowers and a mezcal cajeta caramel, it was a refreshing way to round off a meal of culinary depth but familiar, welcoming warmth. A chilled out, delicious and fun way to experience my last tasting menu meal for a little while and well worth the three month waiting list.
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