The Gantry Restaurant & Bar

Terry Durack
Wharfside vibe: Dark, solid timber characterises The Gantry's interior.
Wharfside vibe: Dark, solid timber characterises The Gantry's interior. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Pier One Sydney Harbour, 11 Hickson Road Walsh Bay, New South Wales 2000

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Opening hours Mon - Fri 6:30 – 10:30 AM 6:00 – 10:00 PM, Sat - Sun 7:00 – 11:00 AM 12 Noon – 2:30 PM 6:00 – 10:00 PM
Features Accepts bookings, Bar, Business lunch, Degustation, Green-eco focus, Licensed, Long lunch, Outdoor seating, Pre-post-theatre, Romance-first date, Views, Wheelchair access, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly, Private dining
Prices Expensive (mains over $40)
Chef Joel Bickford
Payments Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone (02) 8298 9999

Hen – corn – ash – yolk. Crab – kohlrabi – salted cream. Beef – parsley root – black barley – leaves. When that's the menu, perhaps the review should be done the same way.

After all, why waste 600 words explaining the background, personnel and location; analysing the dining experience; testing the aim against the execution; or indeed, helping you decide whether it's worth your hard-earned money or not? 

The cryptic haiku menu at the Gantry under newly arrived Biota Dining head chef Joel Bickford, is a mystery wrapped in a conundrum in terms of knowing what to expect.

Go-to dish: Hen - corn - ash - yolk.
Go-to dish: Hen - corn - ash - yolk. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Order hen-corn-ash-yolk ($24), for instance, and you get a riff on confit'd chicken wings, a crisped round of chicken "sausage", a single egg yolk warmed in grapeseed oil at 64 degrees, some charred corn, and a pitch-black volcanic ash of roasted, salted, dehydrated chicken skin blitzed to a powder with activated charcoal. It may not be what you had in mind, but it is both progressive and comfortingly familiar. Or should I just say:  rich – golden – textural – conceptual.

Bickford has taken over from promising Canadian chef Chris Irving, who has moved elsewhere with the same hotel group. He brings with him a bag of tricks picked up during his time with James Viles at Biota in Bowral, with a view to lifting hotel dining to the next level. 

When there's little information to hand, floor staff have to fill in the gaps. One tells us the chef doesn't want to spoil the surprises to come. "There's no need to stress over the menu," she assures us brightly. "Everything comes out gorgeous." And it does.

New course: Joel Bickford is now steering the ship at the Gantry.
New course: Joel Bickford is now steering the ship at the Gantry. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

The kitchen sends out a little appetiser of prawn – kale – roe, which translates as crisp house-made prawn cracker with john dory and trout-roe taramasalata dusted with powdered kale. It's the perfect door-opener to crab – kohlrabi – salted cream ($26), an art installation of thinly sliced, deliciously pickled kohlrabi furled over a mound of picked spanner crab meat folded through rich salted cream. 

Monkfish – sunchoke – hock – green garlic ($36) is a showcase for golden, pan-fried monkfish fillets, partnered with fresh, garlicky greens, steamed jerusalem artichoke (sunchoke) halves, and slightly oily splinters of shredded and fried pork hock.

A side dish of celeriac ($14) has this bulbous root vegetable two ways, as a slab of rich celeriac gratin and a crisp, julienned  salad.

Duck breast cooked sous-vide style.
Duck breast cooked sous-vide style. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Tough protein, in spite of low-and-slow sous vide cooking, lets down a main course of "duck – mulberry – eggplant –amaranth" ($42), its accompaniments dark and somewhat unrelenting. A sweet contrivance of strawberries ($18) is a tangle of sorbet, jelly, cream, marshmallow and the diced fruit itself on a spill of tooth-cracking sugared buckwheat.

The Gantry itself has changed little since an intelligent Bates Smart revamp earlier in the year. The dark, solid timber and the industrial wharfside vibe is softened by wine collections, produce displays, deckside tables and working-harbour views.

Its adjacent bar, a harbourside destination in itself, shakes a decent cocktail, pours a cold beer, and delivers from a well-paced, well-priced wine list, including a top-value, skin-contact Tar & Roses 2015 Pinot Grigio ($10/$50) from Victoria's Strathbogie Ranges. Blush-pink – fragrant – bargain.

'Strawberries': Strawberry sorbet, vanilla ice-cream and marshmallow.
'Strawberries': Strawberry sorbet, vanilla ice-cream and marshmallow. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

I could say more – that Bickford is a diligent, clever and progressive chef with a fine eye for a pretty plate; that service is at odds with the smooth professionalism of the kitchen; and that the cryptic nature of the menu isn't the best fit for the style of venue – but I won't. Instead: Biota chef – hotel dining room – waterside – subtle – surprising. 

THE LOWDOWN
Best bit: Engaging, beautifully plated food by the sea.
Worst bit: No real management on the floor.
Go-to dish: Hen-corn-ash-yolk, $24.

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