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TravelReview: Cookoovaya, Athens, Greece - A Luxury Travel Blog

Review: Cookoovaya, Athens, Greece – A Luxury Travel Blog

“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.

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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’s delicious take on the spinach pie comes complete with wild greens, chard, feta and herbs.

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 traditionally cooked (bianco, bourdeto, soup, poached with basil, bourou-bourou) was presented to us before being de-boned and served at our table.

In Greek cuisine, “bourou-bourou” is a traditional soup made with various vegetables and sometimes pasta or rice. It is a hearty and comforting dish, typically enjoyed as a starter or a light meal. On this occasion, 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, before being crushed before us.

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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.

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.

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 Daily Telegraph.

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