It’s been five years since Fort Denison Island was closed off to visitors, shutting down what is essentially one of the most fascinating and historic features of Sydney Harbour. You know, the one that looks like a crumbling old-world European fortress casually sticking out with its slightly medieval style amongst Sydney’s numerous floating landmasses. Now plans are in place to reopen Fort Denison Island and its 1857-built fortress (a slim version of a classic Martello tower), transforming the heritage-listed gem into a premium new restaurant and bar by the same team behind Sydney favourites The Dolphin Hotel, The Bucket List, and Bondi Beach Public Bar.
Fort Denison Island, sometimes referred to as Pinchgut Island, was a former defence outpost used to guard the inner harbour. The name pinchgut came from the sentencing of convict Thomas Hill back in the 1780s, who was banished to the rocky outcrop and doomed to spend a week in iron chains with nothing to survive on but bread and water. The lack of nourishment apparently became so severe that conditions literally started to pinch his gut. Hence the obvious nickname.
While the 19th century fort’s history may have been built on a severe scarcity of food, it’s unlikely any guts will be pinching once The Point Group open this yet-to-be-named restaurant and bar. The hospitality group has reportedly signed on for a long-term lease of up to 25 years, and their ambitious plans for the Fort Denison Dining arm include not just a restaurant, but also a wine room, bar, a casual dining area, and three exhibition rooms in the former barracks.
The Fort Dension restaurant precinct will be showcasing the island’s history as well, with various historic and interpretive displays, as well as tours of the fort and its Martello tower.
Most Sydneysiders should remember that Fort Denison Island did actually have a restaurant once, which was operated by New South Wale’s National Parks Service but was largely unremarkable save for the location. That all closed to the public in 2017.
Although the island seems pretty small, The Point Group have stated that maximum capacity will be set at 400 patrons who will be able to enjoy dining service all day, from 7 AM to midnight, seven days a week. Of course the whole thing will be available for private functions as well, which should easily lead position it as the most unique event space on Sydney Harbour.
The current 1940s timber wharf is also set to be replaced with a modern ferry terminal to make the island much more accessible. This means that Fort Denison should be added as a stop to existing ferry routes that regularly zip by the tower, including the life-giving Manly Ferry and the ferry from the city to Taronga Zoo.
Perhaps most fascinating is the fact that a big function of the tower will be restored as part of these plans. That is, the return of the 1 PM firing of a cannon, which will take place every day and recalls a time when the barracks was used to help ship captains keep track of the time while they were anchored in Sydney Harbour.
Fort Denison Island and its new dining experience will open in late 2022.
While you wait, make sure you check out the best new restaurants in Sydney for 2021.