Support your local Greek! // Cologne

If you are living in London, New York or Buenos Aires you could easily spend all your weekends hopping from one underground restaurant to the next. Not yet in Germany, you mostly need to jump from city to city to get to the next secret table – unless you are in Berlin where Mitte, Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg and Neukölln seem to be catching up quite nicely. Cologne – or Köln in local language – where I live is a little behind. But a couple of weeks ago I finally had my first secret dinner adventure at Kouzina Marina, the city’s first ever underground restaurant: For some time I had been checking the dates announced on their website against my calendar. One did finally work, I sent an email with my reservation request and received a friendly confirmation for my five-course meal on Saturday night. By Friday late afternoon I started to nervously check my inbox because there was still no email showing with the address. For me a cook is a creative character, which made me suspect that properly managing mailing lists might not be his strongest point. Believe me, I worked with creative people in the music industry for quite many years: God seems to think twice before he throws creativity and organizational talent into one bowl.

Of course, I was worried for nothing, the email with the address was there the next morning. In the evening around 19:00 my friend and I arrived at Kouzina Marina. The place is a former backyard workshop that doesn’t try to hide its past. Some fresh paint for the walls, beer garden benches and tables under white tablecloth for roundabout 20 people, on the sides some nicely arranged piles of wine boxes as decoration, candle light and of course the kitchen equipment – what else does it need for a relaxed little dinner party with friends? No need to dress up, come as you are and enjoy!

Chef Marinos welcomed us from the open kitchen, busy with preparing the starters. Some people were already standing or wandering around in pairs of two or small groups, sipping a first glass of wine and nibbling some olives, marinated sardines and feta chese. Some shy warm-up conversations with unknown co-eaters got started, type of ”have you been here before, how did you find out about this place, do you live in the area?”

And then we were asked to the table. The opener was a traditional Greek salad, Choriatiki Salata, not pretending to be anything else but light, fresh and seasoned with good olive oil. Next came a Revithosoupa, a lovely chickpea soup with persil and lemon juice accompanied by a Bratwurst Souvlaki, to give it a little German twist. Wine continued to be served generously, making conversations across the table become more and more lively as we made our way to the main course: A fantastically tender Stifado apo Moscharaki, a Greek goulash type of dish with veal cooked in a sauce with red wine, shallots and a good dose of cinnamon, one of my favourite spices anyway. A vegetarian option was also on offer, but sorry: I just can’t remember what it was. And finally we had Milfei me Frauoles, strawberries on puff pastry, Greek mokka and/or a grape marc for those who wanted.

Wrapping it up, I can say the food was delicious! Was it spectacular, unforgettable, mind-blowing? No, and it wasn’t meant to be. Marinos, native from Greece, serves mediterranean dishes inspired by his home country. It’s the type of food you would find in a village Taverna run by an ambitious chef who is proud of what he’s doing and whose guests are his neighbors and friends: It’s simple, honest, and freshly prepared from high quality ingredients, often sourced directly from Greece. The olive oil for example is from where he grew up as is the wine, funnily labelled “Drama”: No bad joke, no sarcastic reference to the Euro crisis, just the village’s name. Some herbs are stolen from his mother’s garden and even the sea salt on the tables is from Greece.

In a nutshell, Kouzina Marina is Marinos’ edible love for his mediterranean home country. If you need a little brainwash that wipes away all your memories of Greek restaurants called “Mykonos”, “Dyonysos” or whatever, this is the place to clean your hard drive! And if you share Marino’s love, you might leave as the proud owner of one of his “Support your local Greek!!!” t-shirts.

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