11 Hickson Rd Dawes Point, NSW 2000
|Opening hours||Wed-Sun noon-2.30pm; Daily 6-10pm|
|Features||Vegetarian friendly, Accepts bookings|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 8298 9910|
Tricky thing, a chef change-over. Do you toss out both baby and bath water and start with a new concept, or do you manage, massage, maintain?
Ten years ago, it would have been out-with-the-old, but in these more sustainable days, it's the latter option for The Gantry at Walsh Bay's Pier One.
Chef Joel Bickford came in from Biota for nearly two years, before using it as a launching pad into executive chefdom at Matt Moran's flagship Aria restaurant. That's not a bad upgrade of views, from Sydney's back harbour to dress circle Circular Quay.
The powers-that-be searched for a replacement, only to find him in the kitchen. Thomas Gorringe started as sous chef at The Gantry in 2016, having worked at Eschalot in Berrima and the Bentley group in Sydney. The change-over has been seamless, and yet …
Gorringe's menu is less cryptic, with fewer creative flourishes and onsen eggs on the plate. (Did anyone ever really enjoy a runny egg yolk in the middle of their main course?) It's good to see Paroo kangaroo handled so well, grilled over charcoal ($28) until both crusty and pink, with highly compatible furls of pickled pear and radicchio and a crumble of black pudding.
There's also an elegant wintry play on crudo with lightly torched raw bonito ($24), glazed with apple and soy and served with a smoked fishbone cream and puffed pork skin.
Couples and quartets wander in and almost fill the large dark, solid timber room, framed by walls of wine and open kitchens. The working harbour views are tonight obscured as post-function groups share long tables out on the covered, heated deck.
Further up the pier, the bar opens onto a newly christened Garden deck, with a colony of PVC igloos for all-weather drinking.
I can't help but like this food, and the thinking behind it. Torello rosé veal, a decent initiative that gives male calves born into the dairy industry more of a life, is showcased here as tongue and sweetbreads ($36). Both are richly textural, intuitively teamed with beluga lentils and strips of salsify. Offal, pulses, ugly root vegetables! It has it all.
Roast chicken from Little Hill Farm in the Hunter Valley ($38) is adorable, a long tranche of breast, its crisp, tanned skin mirrored by a long golden finger of potato gratin and a blond celeriac romesco thickened with hazelnuts.
And just when I've learnt my GSM from my MSG, along comes an MGS, damn their eyes – the 2016 Massena Moonlight Run Mourvedre Grenache Shiraz ($75) that's all cherry and berry.
The signature dessert takes all those elements that others make gross – chocolate, salted caramel, brownie, dulce de leche ice-cream – and turns them into a crisp, Magnum-style chocolate capsule that cracks like the shell of a boiled egg. Classy stuff.
The Gantry feels buzzier, more bedded down, happy in its skin as a hotel dining room for all. And the team of smart young floor staff headed by personable restaurant GM and sommelier James Heggie is a vast improvement on the backpacker-like quality of past years.
It's a bit hard to tell where Bickford left off and Gorringe picked up, but then, that's the idea. He hasn't dropped any balls, instead he's run with them, with great produce, natural flavour combinations and precision engineering of timing and texture. Let's hope he likes that view for a while yet.
Vegetarian Dedicated vegetarian and vegan set menus available.
Drinks A shake-it-up cocktail list, a clan of single-malt whiskeys and a solid, Australian-led wine list with plenty to intrigue
Go-to dish Chocolate, dulce de leche, buckwheat and cocoa nibs, $18.
Pro tip A special pre-theatre menu is available until 6.30pm.
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.