There is no way Christina Mouratoglou can remember every conversation she’s had with her customers. After all, she and co-owner Adrien Carré have had thousands trickle into Mazi, London’s beloved modern Greek restaurant, since opening in 2012.
But there is one that stands out.
“One of our regular customers is a local, famous British film director and he told me once that what we do here is like a theatrical show. Whenever it’s 6pm, we dim the lights, light the candles and open the doors.”
The feeling, she explains, is intoxicating: “You become a little bit of a rock star. You learn to crave the applause, you want to hear, ‘Oh my gosh, this is delicious.’”
Yet, it isn’t her ego that keeps Mouratoglou in the industry; it is her sense of passion for what she does.
It’s exhausting, she admits. In fact, Mouratoglou and Carré work Monday to Sunday, and take no holidays or weekends. “What keeps me going is the love for what I do. It’s my pleasure to go to work and serve our customers.”
Even as a teenager, Mouratoglou had a passion for Greek food. After moving to the UK from Greece when she was 18, Mouratoglou realised she couldn’t find the same quality ingredients she grew up with – and it drove her nuts.
“I’m talking 16 years ago, when I moved here, you couldn’t find good feta. It sounds ridiculous, but I used to bring my own olives, feta and olive oil with me when I went out.” She even admits that when people wanted to bring her presents from home, she’d only request they bring her olive oil.
Before Mazi opened, the only places Londoners could find Greek cuisine were restaurants that played up the old touristy clichés, says Mouratoglou. After meeting her partner Carré, they both realised they had to do something about it. Together, with his 15 years of experience in the restaurant industry and her deep understanding of Greek food, they decided to show a different side of Greek cuisine with Mazi.
One of the most popular dishes the restaurant serves is feta tempura with lemon marmalade and caper meringue. She explains how chefs squeeze just a bit of lemon to make the fresh, zingy marmalade. This, to her, is an example of how they give their dishes a modern twist, while preserving what makes them special.
“We don’t want you to taste it and say it doesn’t taste Greek.”
After six years of success, Mouratoglou and Carré wanted to encapsulate the flavours of Mazi, and there was no better way to do that than to write them down to share. The result of this is their debut cookbook, Mazi: Modern Greek Food.
he book is inspired by Mazi’s most popular dishes, but also includes a few of Mouratoglou’s most beloved family recipes. She emphasises that these are not your typical Greek recipes, which is no surprise, as her devotion to food became ingrained through her unique upbringing.
“I grew up in a family where when we would have lunch, we’d be discussing what we would have for lunch the next day,” says Mouratoglou. “Our life revolved around food. They all are true foodies. They would go miles to pick up the right ingredients.”
The key to Mazi’s success is rooted in Mouratoglou’s willingness to celebrate her family’s deep-rooted passion for classic Greek cooking, while also being open to modern inspiration.
From social media, I can follow restaurants around the world,” says Mouratoglou. “I can get inspiration from a traditional Greek place, but then bring it back to Mazi and do it the modern way. That’s how I do my research.”
She’s also realised that social media allows her customers to play a more active role in the dining experience.
“We have so many people coming up to us with a phone and they’ll show us a picture from our social media and tell us: ‘I want to order this one.’”
If it’s not abundantly clear already, Carré and Mouratoglou have established something special with Mazi.
We had to take steps into the Greek food revolution. We opened Mazi and then I felt that it was time to share these recipes. People kept asking for them, so we knew it would be a great idea to write a cookbook to share this with people. Not just people in London, but people nationwide.”
Now they’ve released their cookbook, they are planning on opening a new restaurant, next autumn. Mouratoglou explains that it won’t be another Mazi, as to her, “Mazi is so special and we wouldn’t want to replicate it anyway.”
She does explain that it’ll be Greek food, but as usual, it’ll have a new twist. And after that project, Mouratoglou says they’ll move on to the next one, because after all – the show must go on.
Mazi: Modern Greek Food by Christina Mouratoglou and Adrien Carre is out now. Photography by Nicolas Buisson. Published by Octopus (£25)