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Review: Cookoovaya, Athens, Greece

Cookoovaya” (κουκουβάγια), which means “owl” in Greek, is depicted in this restaurant’s logo, which features the eyes and beak of an owl. In Athens‘ historical and vibrant Pangrati neighbourhood, the logo features prominently on a sign outside this Michelin Guide restaurant, with the words ‘Wise Cuisine’ below. The owl is the sacred bird of the goddess Athena and a symbol of the city of Athens. It’s a symbol of wisdom and knowledge in Greek culture that is reflected in the restaurant’s culinary excellence and thoughtful, creative cooking.

We’re welcomed on arrival at a contemporary reception area set against a striking floor-to-ceiling wine fridge. This impressive display is so tall that a ladder is needed to reach the uppermost bottles.

The opening page on Cookovaya’s menu is titled ‘Apheresis’ which is central to the restaurant’s culinary philosophy, emphasising traditional techniques that extract and highlight natural quality and flavours. There’s a determination here to showcase Greece’s finest ingredients from both land and sea, utilising every part of those ingredients, from “nose-to-tail” and “root-to-stalk”.

The food

We were invited to choose from the à la carte menu or opt for the Chef’s recommendations. We decided on the latter, with the only caveat being that one of us was pescatarian. This turned out to be a good move as we thoroughly enjoyed a variety of dishes we might not have otherwise selected.

We began with the flavourful dorade royale carpaccio which was accompanied with wild fennel pollen, yuzu kosho and lemon zest. The thin slices of this fish, also konwn as gilt-head bream, had a delicate sweetness and a delicious, almost slightly nutty taste.

And then the dishes kept flowing, with the local red prawns, scallops, avocado, chilli, lime and coriander being particularly palate-pleasing.

Of course, no Greek meal would be complete without a Greek salad and this one did not disappoint, not least because the accompanying feta – which is sourced from the Arkadia region in the central Peloponnese area – had almost no aging, less salt, and a much softer and silkier texture than normal feta.

Anyone familiar with Greek cuisine will also be familiar with spanakopita (σπανακόπιτα) – Cookoovaya does a wonderful “marathopitta” which is a grilled wild fennel pie with a wild mint yogurt in the centre.

For me, the stand-out dish was the scallops sitting on a purée of smoked eggplant and jalapeño – it was so succulent and still makes my mouth water when I reminisce about it!

We also enjoyed the octopus on grilled bread with fava and tomatoes…

…and the tarama made with white fish roe, olive oil and lemon juice, served with a crispy phyllo bread that is made without yeast. 

A side dish of spring beaans steamed with grated heirloom tomato, extra virgin olive oil, aged vinegar and fresh garlic, plus a plate of grilled Ambracian prawns with olive oil, lemon and oregano blossom (from the Ambracian Gulf on the northwest coast of Greece, and known for their quality) were further examples of how simple cooking techniques can achieve exceptional results.

Our main course – the catch of the day in a Bianco recipe, traditionally cooked with garlic, olive oil and lemon, along with potatoes – was presented to us before being de-boned and served at our table.

This was a hearty and comforting dish and the fish (grouper) was surpisingly ‘meaty’, delicious and filling.

By this time, we were really more than satisfied, but it was almost insisted that we try the bougatsa – a crunchy phyllo, vanilla cream and cinnamon ice cream which was displayed in all its glory.

It looked enormous but we were assured it was much bigger than it seemed, before it was crushed before us at the table prior to serving.

YouTube video

A pear tarte tatin with butterscotch and vanilla ice cream was also thoroughly enjoyed.

The chef

Chef owner Periklis Koskinas, who comes from Corfu, is one of Greece’s most well-travelled chefs, having worked in the UK, Canaries, Venezuela, USA, Canada and, of course, Greece. He believes in simplicity in cooking, using seasonal and local produce. He opened Cookoovaya in late 2014 with five other esteemed Greek chefs – for the past three years, it has been under his sole command. Greece’s culinary traditions remain at the core of his menu, as do Greek values, regional produce and Greek hospitality.

The ambience

At the time of our visit, this air-conditioned restaurant had a lively buzz about it. Tables are well spaced and the ceiling high, so it was not too noisy despite most tables being occupied, and a few spilling over to dine outside. The service is very friendly and attentive without being bothersome, and the atmosphere very relaxed. Since we were seated in the front portion of the restaurant, it wasn’t until I went around the corner to visit the restroom that I saw there is also a fully open plan kitchen where you can see all the culinary magic happen.

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The cost

Appetisers are in the region of €10 to €25. Mains start from €30 (for the lamb chops, tzatziki, French fries and wild oregano). There are also two “Wise Tasting Menus”, priced at €75 or €85 per person. Desserts are typically around the €10 mark.

The final verdict

Now celebrating its tenth year, Cookoovaya continues with its commitment to simplicity and wisdom in cooking (hence the owl again), delivering dishes that celebrate the essence of Greek cuisine through meticulous preparation and respect for tradition. Diners may also notice that even the plates are subtly branded with the words “270 degrees” and a line that equates to three quarters of a circle, representing the total number of degrees that an owl can rotate its head. It’s these kinds of details that demonstrate the restaurant’s attention to detail and underscore its commitment to incorporating wisdom into every aspect of the dining experience.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Cookoovaya. Our trip was sponsored by AEGEAN Airlines.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Telegraph.

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  1. I love a good Greek salad though the one’s I get in the UK aren’t always up to standard. This is the way to do it.

    1. I don’t think a Greek salad is ever quite the same when you try to create it again back home. We don’t have the same climate or the same ingredients to choose from, I don’t think… which all make a huge difference.

  2. If only there were Greek restaurants like this in London.

    I know where I’ll be eating the next time I’m in Athens on business.

    1. Looking back, I don’t think the photos really do the dishes justice. What you can’t convey in a picture is how great it all tasted. 🙂

  3. If someone set up Cookoovoya as a chain in the UK it could be a runaway success.

    What do we need in the depths of winter but a taste of the Aegean in Summer. Though sourcing might be a struggle when British fields are growing Brussels sprouts and cabbages.

    1. I’m not sure Cookoovaya would work as a chain… 🙂 And you’re right regarding sourcing – it’s hard enough to get the right quality ingredients in the UK in season, let alone out of season!

  4. Is Apheresis a common Greek word? Or is it a new concept that the restaurant has developed by themself?

    1. I must confess, it wasn’t a word that I was familar with, prior to dining at Cookoovaya.

      Look it up in a dictionary nowadays, and you’ll see definitions that talk about a method of taking blood from donors. So sorry, I don’t know much about how this word has come to be used in this context!

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