People: Interviews

Matt Varona

Head of Drinks, KOL

Charlie McKay

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@mattvarona

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KOL, the much-hyped Mexican by Santiago Lastra in Marylebone, has a new mezcaleria opening this Saturday, 12 Dec. We caught up with their head of drinks, Matt Varona – who worked with small-scale agave producers in Mexico to carefully curate this list – about some of his favourite places to drink around town and beyond.

UJ: Favourite bar in London?

MV: The Connaught Bar.

UJ: Favourite drink?

MV: A dry martini.

UJ: Where do you go to celebrate?

MV: Back to see my family in Madrid, where I used to live. One of my favourite bars is a wine bar called Benditos. It’s a really Spanish-focused wine bar, which showcases wines from small producers located around the country. There aren’t many bars in Madrid that focus on small wineries, so it’s pretty interesting.

UJ: Favourite restaurant (apart from Kol) in London?

MV: Carousel, although I’m biased as I used to manage the restaurant. The constantly rotating guest chefs format is so exciting, and the energy that you feel when you walk into the dining room is so infectious. They have such an amazing team.

UJ: Who (apart from Kol) do you think has a good mezcal collection (in London)?

MV: Hacha, on Kingsland Road. They curate their mezcal collection really well. It’s interesting and they work hard to highlight the spectrum of agave spirits available out there.

UJ: What bar/restaurant do you think has a great mezcal collection abroad?

MV: I haven’t been to Paris in a while, but I know the scene there is pretty special (think Candelaria…). Barcelona is another mezcal hotspot – there’s a place called Hoja Santa which is amazing.

UJ: Best place to drink mezcal in Mexico?

MV: The last cocktail bar I went to in Mexico City was Ticuchi. I took a lot of inspiration from their mezcal list.

UJ: Best food accompaniment to have with mezcal?

MV: Antojitos, which translates to little cravings, are the street food-inspired snacks we will be serving in KOL and work beautifully with mezcal. We also recently paired Santiago’s halibut Mextlapique (halibut cooked in corn husk) with Lalocura Tobasiche mezcal and the pairing was phenomenal.

UJ: What do you like most about your job?

MV: I haven’t stopped learning this year. I have learnt so much about agave spirits and central and Eastern European wines that it really compels me to get out of bed every morning. Especially during lockdown I really focused on reading more about Mexican drinks culture, which is a really rich subject. It totally solidified my decision to join the KOL team.

UJ: Anything you think we should not miss when you open?

MV: The KOL Mezcaleria is so much more than somewhere to swing by for a quick drink; you really want to take the time to go for the full experience to get the most out of it. If you do this, and leave the team to curate your experience and make recommendations based on your personal tastes, you will have the best time and leave with a renewed understanding of mezcal and agave spirits. And the food of course – a visit to the mezcaleria must involve working your way through the antojitos menu… it’s a must! My favourite snack is the quesadilla with Kentish Oaxacan cheese, truffle and corn. It’s superb.

Originally published on
8th December 2020

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