In December 2018, Penrith’s quiet Woodriff Street mall became a late-night destination. The newcomer was Allan Grammar – a plush wine bar from Sophia and Aaron Bernecki who, years ago, had opened Henri Marc cafe, also in Penrith.

In 2015 the chefs told us they decided to take the leap because they were tired of making the trek into the city for good coffee and food. “We thought, we could do this,” co-owner Sophia said. They sure could, and they’ve done it again with Allan Grammar.

The sophisticated bar – which celebrated its first birthday on December 5 – has a focus on small-batch producers, inventive cocktails and modern-Mediterranean snacks and, over the past 12 months, has not only set the standard for Penrith, but for greater Western Sydney.

Sophia and Aaron tell us they weren’t thinking that ambitiously when they opened – they just wanted somewhere in the ‘Rith to drink the kind of drinks they like. To do that, they brought in sommelier Seamus Brandt from Bennelong (the Sydney Opera House fine diner) to build a far-reaching wine list, and Timothy Man (ex-Bellevue) to run the bar and the cocktail list. There are plenty of vinos by the glass, and a nice mix of local and international and minimum-intervention options, with Sparrow & Vine available on tap (it makes very drinkable wine in South Australia, and also in small quantities in a warehouse in Marrickville).

Despite the focus on what goes on behind the bar, many punters see Allan Grammar as a restaurant, using chef Robert Te Whaiti’s (also ex-Bellevue) snack-based menu for a more entree-main-dessert-style of dining. They might start with house-made bread served with whipped pepperberry butter, a hunk of buffalo feta and oxheart tomatoes, then progress to hand-made gnocchi with glazed veal. Dessert might be Blue Mountains honeycomb and cheese. But Sophia sees Allan Grammar as more of a bar than a restaurant – though she acknowledges it’s a step up from Henri Marc. “It was an opportunity for us to go back to our grassroots,” she says. “We’re from fine dining ... we’ve done polished. I think it was natural for us to fall back into this.”

The back-wall seating may be a lavish emerald-velvet, and there may be bespoke bell-shaped illuminated nets hanging from the ceiling as chandeliers, but the tables are way too close together for someone to have a fine-dining experience. “We can turn it up and give la-di-da service, but if a group of girls drinking rosé comes and sits next to you, that person [looking for a fancy meal] is gonna be sorely let down.”

Sophia says regardless of the food and the beautiful space, a venue is only going to be successful if it’s run by people who are hospitable. “You can have the best food in the world or the best natural wines in the world, but if you’re not accessible as a person, it’ll never work. It’s about you and the mentality and culture you create and give to your staff,” she says.

Allan Grammar
14–16 Woodriff Street, Penrith
0402 715 986

Wed to Thu 5pm–12am
Fri 12pm–1am
Sat 5pm–1am
Sun 12pm–6pm

This article first appeared on Broadsheet on November 28, 2019. Menu items may have changed since publication.