Former Aria executive chef Joel Bickford has been lured from the harbourfront fine diner to lead two new venues that are set to be a Big Deal for Sydney: the Shell House development in the CBD and Fort Denison on a Sydney Harbour island, both operated by The Point Group (The Dolphin, Hotel Harry, Bondi Beach Public Bar). Shell House is in the iconic former Menzies Hotel building – Sydney’s only remaining palazzo-style building clad with glazed terracotta blocks. And the Fort Denison development will see the 19th-century fortress in the middle of the harbour get a makeover that’ll include a restaurant, a casual dining area, and a bar and wine room.

Bickford, who worked as Aria’s executive chef for four years and was at Biota in the Southern Highlands prior to that, will bring more than 25 years of experience to Shell House’s multiple venues – the ground-floor Menzies Bar, a ninth-level dining room, the rooftop Sky Bar, and a cocktail bar within the 400-tonne, hollowed-out clock tower – and the Fort Denison redevelopment.

“We’ve been working on both of these projects for a couple of years, they’ve taken a long time to come to fruition,” Point Group co-founder and director Brett Robinson tells Broadsheet. “So in that time we’ve been looking at trying to speak to the best culinary talent available in Australia. And there was probably quite a small pool of people that are really qualified enough to take on a role of this scale. Joel was certainly one of those.”

The Menzies Bar was slated to open in July, but due to lockdown that’s been pushed back. When it opens – likely around a week or so after restrictions are lifted – expect a bistro-style experience.

“It’s the sort of thing where you can have … as much or as little as you like,” Bickford tells Broadsheet. “You can have salad and snacks, or you can go and have a nice, beautiful steak, amazing pasta, fresh fish – anything like that – and some desserts as well. It’s just a beautiful offering really, but a bit more of a relaxed environment.”

Things will get more swish upstairs in the Dining Room and Terrace on level nine, where Bickford will “showcase some of the best stuff Australian producers have to offer”. That could include rare-breed pork, shellfish, fish cooked over a parilla grill, and “beautiful poultry”. Up even higher, on the rooftop, expect a light and breezy Mediterranean-style menu: raw fish, oysters and fried squid.

“We want it to be a very social, fun place that you can come once a week or once a year, whenever you like,” says Robinson. “The menus are very approachable. You really can create a whole range of different experiences for people, whether it’s an all-day dining bar and bistro, whether it’s fun and frivolity at the Sky Bar after work, or whether it’s a beautiful dining room or a world-class cocktail bar. We’ll be taking people on a bit of a journey through that building and creating a whole house of fun.”

Bickford will turn his attention more fully to Fort Denison, which is set to open in 2022, towards the end of the year, but he says it’ll probably have a “seafood focus”. The island is getting a new ferry terminal for visitors, but the restaurant will also operate a tender service for diners to catch from several points around the harbour.

The Menzies Bar is slated to open shortly after Sydney’s lockdown ends; other Shell House venues are set to open in October. Fort Denison will open in 2022.