Avli is located on one of the two main thoroughfares running between Penrith and Richmond. It’s the only restaurant in the suburb of Cranebrook – to eat anywhere else you’d have to drive into neighbouring Penrith. “There’s not much there either,” our friendly waitress volunteers, adding: “when we want to eat out, we go to Parramatta.” So to say that this Greek restaurant is filling a gap in the market, is probably to understate its importance to the local community.
Emerging in 2017, Avli is partially housed inside a 1930s church.
If you venture into the main dining room, you can even eyeball the original wooden ceiling.
Owners Sophia and Kiriakos Tsaparopoulos have expanded upon the church’s original footprint with a verandah style extension and a covered backyard pavilion. A young and friendly floor team, clad in buttoned-up blue plaid, services the expansive seating area.
While lots of Sydney restaurants are couple world, Avli is definitely the domain of large groups. We try to get into the more lively atmosphere with a drink. Volkan Blonde ($9) is a beer that tells a Greek story. It’s flavoured with Santorini honey and Greek citron, and as a result, has a lovely aroma and well-cushioned bitterness. It’s also a beer with a lovely ethos – for every Euro of profit they make, half of it goes into paying down the Greek national debt.
With wine labels etched into the tables using pyrography - writing with fire, derived from the Greek pur (fire) and graphos (writing) – Avli are clearly are passionate about wine. Having driven a long way to get here, we opt for glasses rather than a bottle from their wine list. We contrast the Alexakis ‘Vidiano’ ($12/glass), which our waitress touts as the drier of their two Greek whites available by the glass, with the Knee Deep Chenin Blanc ($11/glass) from their new world selection. The vidiano (an indigenous Greek grape) was fruity but a bit one-dimensional, while the flinty citrussy Chenin blanc was enjoyable and really suited the cuisine.
What you’ll find on the plate is traditional Greek home-style cooking. Lahanodolmades ($17) are rice and beef mince-stuffed cabbage rolls, sitting under a thick faintly lemony sauce. Truth be told, they’re a bit boring for me – though I hazard many of Avli’s plain-eating guests might like them. Their smooth beefy interiors are finely grained and evenly dotted with rice, but to me they lack flavour and seasoning - even the paprika garnish is old and has lost its power.
Queensland king prawns cooked in ouzo and tomato salsa with feta, olive oil and herbs - Garides Saganki ($29.00) – fare better.
The sauce has been cooked for long enough to unlock all the umami in the tomatoes, so we put in a fast order for Pita ($4) to enjoy it properly.
Three skewers of charred Pork Souvlaki ($26) are balanced on a chips and a pita cone full of salad. While it does give the dish impressive height, the pita pocket is pretty much the bread equivalent of a towel swan. It also means it’s a bit soggy when you come to disassemble your plate in order to eat it wrapped around your tzatziki-smeared pig. With tomatoes being such a big part of a Greek salad, I’m a bit sad to find these ones hard and flavourless. Being surrounded by all this land, I was hoping for something tastier from a local market gardener.
There’s no tricky plating to Jimmy’s Plate ($38) despite the hefty price tag. It’s an honest, meaty goat stew with sundried tomato, capsicum, oven potatoes and feta, pitted against a homely, unadulterated mix of broccoli, carrot and cauliflower. There is a lot of food on the plate, so maybe this one would make more sense in a sharing situation.
Galaktobureko ($14) is one of my favourite Greek desserts. While the flavours are good, Avli’s rendition had the custard looking a bit curdled and the filo pastry seemed to have sat in the sweet syrup for too long, making it a bit texturally sloppy. With greater attention to detail, the stage is set for Avli to be Penrith's favourite Sunday lunch.
540 Cranebrook Road, Cranebrook
Ph: (02) 4729 1970