For soulful Mexican food with a twist, Tom heads west to London’s Marylebone.
At Kol, a new Mexican restaurant north of Oxford Street, everything seems very, well, Noma-esque. The open, central kitchen, where chefs toil with a quiet intensity. The bespoke uniforms, in tasteful shades of beige and umber. And the specially designed tableware, from bespoke leather tortilla warmers to beautifully turned wooden spoons.
No great surprise, as chef patron Santiago Lastra headed up René Redzepi’s Noma Mexico in Tulum, Mexico in 2017. At the time, there was outrage over the $600 set menu (exclusive of tax), though no one would have batted an eyelid had it been French or Japanese. Which seems strange, if wearily predictable, as Mexican food, in terms of depth, technique and regional breadth, is one of the world’s greats.
‘Mexican soul, British ingredients,’ is how Lastra describes Kol. I’m certainly not bothered by any notion of ‘authenticity’, a wild goose chase if there ever was one. Tamarind replaces sea buckthorn as a souring agent, and moles are made with quince. But everything makes sound culinary sense, and his cooking is miles removed from the prissy, often soulless offerings of the tweezer obsessed. Flavours whoop, swagger and holler, Mexican to their core.
There’s a limpidly pure Cornish crab broth, three sips of softly intense bliss, with the most subtle chilli echo. And crab chilpachole, his two-bite take on the Veracruz seafood stew, fresh picked white meat, fermented gooseberry and a glimmer of mezcal. Lots of charred habanero chilli, too. All sitting in a crisp chalupa, a small, deep-fried tortilla ‘boat’. The dish has a vital, vibrant zing.
Scottish langoustine may not be the cheapest of ingredients. But when crammed into fresh, warm tortillas, with a big whack of chipotle salsa, it’s pure taco heaven, a handheld masterpiece. Just like his carnitas, traditionally pork fried in its own lard, but here cooked more gently like confit. Shards of pressed, crisp chicharrón (or crackling) add crunch, along with pink pickled onions and a strident gooseberry salsa. Close your eyes, and you could be in Quiroga. There’s so much to adore here. But with Sonora Taquería (reviewed last month), and today’s Kol, alongside the likes of Santo Remedio and El Pastor, London is, at long last, getting a taste of Mexico’s eternal allure.
9 Seymour Street, London W1. Set menu from £55. Currently closed due to covid restrictions.
Drinks: Olly’s wine trends for 2021
Muscadet is terrific value for wine that’s zingy and resonant as a lemony bell. And that’s just one trend for this year. Canned wines are finally good enough to drink, delivering freshness, portability and recyclability. Urban wineries will grow, as will the reputation of Austrian wines thanks to their fruity elegance. I’m also backing Bulgaria for great value vino and predict organic wine will soar in 2021. Prepare for lift-off!
BULGARIAN HERITAGE MISKET VIA VINERA 2019 (13%), £7.50, winesociety.com. Orange blossom and sherbet roses, this unique zinger is a steal.
IGO ORGANIC ROSÉ (12.5%), £4.99, Waitrose. Spanish rosé in a can, this is endless portable summertime.
SALOMON RIESLING RIED KÖGL UNDHOF 2019 (13%), £20.95, leaandsandeman.co.uk. Set aside your Sauvignon Blanc for this Austrian scented excellence.
BLACKBOOK CHARDONNAY 2018 PYGMALION (11.5%), £25, blackbookwinery.com. Wow-factor English Chardonnay to beat French Burgundy.
Wine of the week MUSCADET SÈVRE ET MAINE SUR LIE LOUIS MÉTAIREAU 2019 (12%), £9, laywheeler.com. Purity, finesse and class.