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Santiago Lastra

Chef Santiago Lastra.
Chef Santiago Lastra.

Santiago Lastra

The chef

Born in Mexico City, Lastra was raised to the south in Cuernavaca, known locally as ‘The City of Eternal Spring.’ A keen math student with a knack for problem-solving, Lastra was offered an internship at one-Michelin-starred Europa Restaurant in Pamplona after high school and promptly moved to Spain to begin his culinary education in earnest.

Following this, he cooked, studied, and researched food and ingredients across the globe, at restaurants like Mugaritz in San Sebastián and the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen. His globe-trotting attracted the label of ‘nomadic chef’ and he caught the attention of Noma and René Redzepi, who would later work with Lastra for a pop-up in Mexico.

Lastra opened his first restaurant, Kol, in London in 2020, mid-pandemic, after several hold-ups. It was the first Mexican restaurant in the UK to win a Michelin star. For Lastra, cooking has always gone hand in hand with research. Science, technology and history are as much a part of what's on the plate as the ingredients, inspiration, and technique at Kol.

Restaurants

Kol’s tagline reads “Mexican soul, British ingredients”. Indeed, it was after falling in love with the produce of the British Isles that Lastra decided London should be the location of his first restaurant.

Its menus celebrate Mexico’s rich cultural tastes, aromas, and textures with meticulously sourced seasonal produce—seafood from Scotland, pork from Wales, and even Oaxaca-style cheese from Kent. As the tasting menu unfolds, diners are taken on a culinary tour of both Mexico and the UK, accompanied by low- intervention wines and premium mezcals.

Kol embodies contemporary gastronomy in the UK—unstuffy, ‘fun dining’ with a warm welcome and a relaxed atmosphere, but with exquisite food befitting of its Michelin star and place on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. The restaurant’s subterranean Mezcaleria is also a pre and post-dinner hit and with those without a restaurant reservation who simply want to explore the world of mezcal.

The Kol team's second restaurant, Fonda, a more casual offering, also in London's West End, is headed up by Lastra's brother Eduardo, who he has worked closely with since Kol's inception. 

Recipes and dishes

Though the menu at Kol is highly seasonal and ever changing, a raft of classic dishes have already been established.

A version of a nicoatole, which uses a Mexican indigenous technique of cooking fruits with corn masa until thick and set as a custard is served here as a savory course, often with caviar and other seafood or vegetables and herbs, and is perhaps the restaurant’s most photogenic dish, but it’s when you get to use your hands that the fun really starts at Kol.

A langoustine or sometimes lobster-stuffed taco, with hits of heat, sweetness, and acidity from accompaniments like smoked chili and sea buckthorn, depending on the season, is a standout dish. Carnitas too, stuffed with rich pork cheek, where you dive in, spoon in hand and stuff fresh corn tortillas with meat, herbs, and tart crispy vegetables is another (don’t worry if you run out of tortillas, they’ll gladly top you up!).

The house mole is rich and velvety and not to be missed (another mopper-upper, so get your tortillas ready), while for dessert, tamales are satisfying yet not overly sweet.

Diners feel a real connection to the food at Kol, not just the story, techniques, and produce, but quite literally through their fingertips, a refreshingly democratic experience at a Michelin-starred restaurant.

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Recipe
A recipe for Christmas leftover tacos dorada by chef Santiago Lastra, from the award-winning restaurant KOL, in London.