QUITE how Georgios Latousakis, born on the sun-kissed Greek island of Santorini, ended up opening the tiniest of café-restaurants sandwiched between Deno’s kebab shop, a tattoo parlour and one of Darlington’s less salubrious watering holes will probably remain something of a mystery.

Having eaten in his Tubwell Row establishment, named after his birthplace, I feel I know pretty much everything else about him such is his bonhomie and willingness to share his enthusiasm for all things Greek – and his life story.

Which to be fair is pretty fascinating, starting with his very first job in a professional kitchen in the renowned Hotel Danieli on Venice’s Grand Canal, a stint in a three Michelin star joint on London’s Park Lane and included overseeing 30 branded Italian and Greek restaurants in Beijing. Indeed Georgios was voted Best Foreign Chef in the Chinese capital.

Strangely enough, when the time came to raise a family the choice was Las Vegas or Darlington – and Darlington won out.

Quite what he thinks when he looks out of the front window of Santorini at the grey November day with the bus queues, the traffic and the backside of the Cornmill Centre God only knows, but he seems happy in his work, single-handedly turning out simple and authentic Greek fare in a minuscule kitchen, starting his day at 5am and finishing when the last customers stumble out into Tubwell Row.

He’s been open 20 months now and, following the closure of the late lamented Blue Lagoon, is the town’s only Greek restaurant. In truth, the Blue Lagoon was not really a Greek restaurant despite being run by the very Greek Kattou family. Continental restaurant more like.

Santorini is unquestionably the real deal and Georgios is the self-styled master of meze. There are 25 of them on the menu and Georgios says everyone is prepared on the premises.

With my dining companion Bill – experienced restaurateur and hospitality guru – we took some considerable time going through the options, having selected a bottle of Retsina – excellent cold, less so as it warmed up - to assist with the process.

We also had waitress Iris – small, dark, pretty and Spanish (not Greek as we had foolishly assumed) – who expertly guided us through the three sets of meze dishes – alpha, beta and gamma – and who after we had made our selection thoughtfully suggested that a shared main course would be more than enough food for the two of us.

Especially when our choice of five meze became six with a complimentary bowl of home-made taramasalata – piquantly fishy and a world away from the pink, gloppy stuff sold in supermarkets.

Of the five meze (£23) we selected from the Beta list, Bill was a big fan of the hearty Gigantes butter beans baked in tomato sauce with onion and herbs. He also rated the Psarokroketa fish cakes – crisp exterior and creamy, well-seasoned fish and potato filling – and the rather unappealing sounding but excellent Dakos – wholewheat rusks spread with a fresh tomato salsa and feta cheese.

My favourites were the Dolmades – vine leaves wrapped round lots of oregano-flavoured rice – and mpoureki – almost crunchy filo pastry cylinders filled with cheese and spinach.

Iris was spot-on with her assessment of how much we would eat and we were happy to share the main course moussaka (£10.50) – partly because we were pretty full but also because it was by far the most disappointing thing we ate. Authentically made with aubergine (unlike the Blue Lagoon’s version made with potato) it was rather flaccid thanks to a rather thick layer of béchamel sauce.

There is no dessert menu at Santorini – just whatever Georgios has prepared that day and we were offered quince cheesecake (Bill’s choice) and baklava (my choice). Bill thought the cheesecake was OK. I thought the baklava brilliant – a sticky, sweet, flaky and nutty feast.

We lingered over black coffee (instant) as Georgios gave us a bit more of his life story. The café had warmed up a bit after being distinctly chilly when we arrived – a situation not helped by the takeaway trade in and out of the only door.

The bill was £53.80 which was inflated rather by the pricey bottle of Retsina (£19.90).

The meze was memorable, the moussaka so less but Georgios’ life story was priceless and well worth the bill. We left with some of his quince jam – made that day by Georgios for the cheesecake and still to set. Very good it was too.


Santorini, 44 Tubwell Row, Darlington, DL1 1PD

Tel: 01325 242697. No website.

Open: Monday-Friday 5-10pm

Disabled access. Vegetarian options.

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 8, Service 8, Surroundings 7, Value 7