The Gantry – the waterfront fine diner within the Pier One hotel complex – has become something of an incubator for top chef talent in Sydney. Aria’s last two executive chefs, Joel Bickford and Thomas Gorringe, have gone to the fine diner directly from The Gantry’s kitchen.

Now, chef Rhys Connell has taken over the pans. He’ll reopen The Gantry from March 3 for a “preview season” until June 2022, giving him a chance to experiment with and develop his menu. The restaurant will then close and relaunch in October with a fresh face, in time for the summer tourist season.

Connell spent 10 years at Sydney’s pioneering Sepia, working as sous chef under husband-wife dream team Martin Benn and Vicki Wild. He then moved with the pair down to Melbourne, where he was appointed head chef at Chris Lucas’s ambitious Society Restaurant. Benn and Wild left the eatery not long after opening, and Connell has followed suit.

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His launch menu takes visual cues from the heritage-listed Pier One, built in 1912, and flavours and ingredients will ebb and flow with the seasons. Here’s what he has in store.

What’s your new job title?
I’ve been welcomed as the head chef at The Gantry, leading the team and setting the culinary direction of the restaurant and, in the coming months, the Pier Dining, Bar One and in-room dining offerings at Pier One Sydney Harbour. I’m aiming to bring a fresh and forward-thinking vision to the surrounding dining spaces, with menus designed to be eaten by the water.

Why did you decide to make the move to The Gantry?
My partner and I have loved living in Melbourne but have always wanted to move back to our adopted home of Sydney. When the opportunity presented itself to bring a new vision to a unique place like The Gantry and Pier One, I knew it was an absolute yes. I would have been insane to turn that down. It’s a really special place and I have two incredibly tough acts to follow – Thomas Gorringe and Joel Bickford – but I’m ready for the challenge to create something new that will continue to build on the restaurant and hotel’s already impressive success.

Do you have any fun plans or ideas for your new role?
I’m excited to reopen The Gantry for a limited preview season. It will afford us the time to test our new direction and give me a real moment to work with our incredible producers. We will have the chance to be quite mercurial with our menus in these months, planning some very interesting dishes that will be served for just short periods of time. Then an exciting project later in the year will be refreshing the pier, dining and drinking spaces’ menus over the cooler months, allowing the opportunity to use our favourite new dishes and re-work some favourites for The Gantry’s relaunch in October.

Will you bring along any dishes or ideas you’re known for?
I’m restarting anew here in Sydney, so no, I won’t be bringing any past dishes along with me to The Gantry. That said, I’m a sum of my parts. Having worked for Martin Benn at Sepia and again with him at Society in Melbourne, his style has been very influential on my cuisine.

Much like him, I love to use Japanese ingredients, but I will be driving our menus with a strong Mediterranean vibe, serving food designed to be served under the sun, close to the water, seasoned by the sea. Neat flavours, gently cooked and handled with care. All the while using my knowledge of an Asian pantry to bring in interest and give a different outlook on some classic and familiar dishes. This feels totally fitting for The Gantry and its spot on Sydney Harbour.

Will we see any cool new dishes or ideas that might thrill diners?
Mud crab with lemon aspen and brown-bread crisps is a fun dish, perfect for sharing. Textures of fresh yellowfin tuna seasoned by tomatoes with burrata and basil is a plate that is inspired by Caprese salad eaten abroad in the summer heat. Lobster served with Marie Rose sauce and lettuce cups for you to build your own mouthful is both decadent and relaxed dining at its best. I’m also working on a “meats on sticks” idea – think arrosticini (Italian lamb skewers) crossed with yakitori.

The Gantry reopens on March 3, 2022.