Scout bar review

Go-to drink: Haymarket cocktail served with a sherbet-coated kaffir lime leaf.
Go-to drink: Haymarket cocktail served with a sherbet-coated kaffir lime leaf. Photo: James Brickwood

412 Crown St Surry Hills, NSW 2010

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Opening hours Sat-Mon 11.30am-10pm; Tue-Fri 11.30am-midnight
Features Accepts bookings, Bar, Groups, Licensed, Pub dining, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Monty Kaludrovic; Dan Medcalf
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 9331 4800

The Australian Fruit Wine and Cider Show is held annually in Hobart and co-ordinated by the Howrah Rotary Club. Now in its second decade, the competition attracts exhibitors from around the country keen to showcase strawberry sparklings, cumquat fortifieds and spotted gum meads.

If Scout leader Matt Whiley doesn't enter his banana wine next year, I'll do it for him. And if it isn't named Best in Show, I'll eat a bushel of the wattle it was fermented with.

Whiley opened Scout in late February on the second level of Maurice Terzini's Dolphin Hotel in partnership with the Icebergs restaurateur. It looks nothing like any other Terzini venue, but the cocktails and fruit wine are as innovative as anything Mozza has ever put his name to.

Scout leader Matt Whiley has created a place that's all dark timber, green velvet and super-low lighting.
Scout leader Matt Whiley has created a place that's all dark timber, green velvet and super-low lighting. Photo: James Brickwood

The first incarnation of Scout launched in London in 2017 and entered the World's 50 Best Bars list at 28th place. Terzini and Icebergs Group sommelier James Hird approached Whiley to open a long-term Scout residency at the Dolphin after the barman visited Bondi for a pop-up and the pair were blown away by his technical nous and game-changing flavour combinations.

For the most part, Terzini took a back seat on the bar's design and left Whiley to create a place that's all dark timber, green velvet and super-low lighting. The hip-hop soundtrack is loud and you'll want to reserve a table online beforehand or expect a small queue at the door.

A stainless steel bar glints with mixing ware, smouldering palo santo wood ("I know it's not native, but it smells like Australia," says Whiley), water jets and carbonation contraptions. It looks like the kind of set-up you could autopsy an X-Files alien on, but the crack team at Scout uses it to prepare drinks that speak of the Australian bush but never go too far down the path of myrtle for myrtle's sake.

Wagyu tartare with fermented chilli and kombu.
Wagyu tartare with fermented chilli and kombu. Photo: James Brickwood

That banana wine ($18) is a complex, delicious beast. Fresh bananas are broken down with a pectinase enzyme and fermented with water, sugar, macadamia nuts, wattle and roasted bananas before a spin in the centrifuge and bottling. Burnt sugar syrup is added to balance the dry ferment with rich caramel and the result tastes more like grape-based wine than many of the very nice vinegars promoted as "natural" plonk. If the blackberry wine ($18) fermented with lemon aspen is still pouring when you visit, absolutely give that guy a roll, too.

House-made wines will change according to fruit surplus and the season, but the Haymarket ($22 and one of 10 cocktails on the list) will be a constant for a few more months. Like most of Whiley's tinctures, the heavy lifting and mixing is done behind the scenes and the drink is a sweet-savoury-sour hit of vodka redistilled with white and Sichuan peppercorns, oyster sauce, ginger, lime leaf, Thai basil and red chilli. Lemongrass syrup is added at the last post and the elixir is served up with kaffir lime leaf coated in a Wizz-Fizzy mix of citric acid, sugar and sancho pepper that's designed to be licked.

There's a no-waste narrative too, evident in drinks such as the Death Myrtle ($22), which sees calvados and cinnamon myrtle combined with burrata whey rescued from the Dolphin kitchen to provide a salty, creamy baseline. It's a nifty time with wagyu tenderloin tartare ($24) enhanced by kombu and fermented chilli. There's a handful of other snacks, such as an agreeable Waldorf finger sandwich ($8), but you couldn't make a meal out of the menu – and nor would you want to when there's a hatted dining room downstairs.

Whisky soda garnished with a shard of meringue.
Whisky soda garnished with a shard of meringue. Photo: James Brickwood

"I just want a normal whisky soda with lime," says my mate. "Not a $22 whisky soda with burnt strawberry cream, cascara and a meringue shard on top." It's a fair request, but there are other sections of the Dolphin available for standards, beer and grape-based wine. Regardless, Philter lager ($11), Harkham 2018 Aziza's Semillon ($15/$80) are on hand at Scout as needed, and classic cocktails are available on request.

Whiley isn't running a FIFO game and has settled full-time with his partner in Sydney. (The bloke even bought a dog two weeks ago.) Scout's drinks are unlike anything I've tasted before, all the while maintaining an elegance without intention to shock. The former Londoner is only beginning to scratch the surface of Australian ingredients and their potential and I can't wait to see how his creations evolve. Howrah Rotary Club Fruit Wine and Cider Show 2020, here we come.

If you only drink one thing: the Haymarket($22).

If you only eat one thing: Wagyu tartare with fermented chilli and kombu ($24)

Open Tue-Sat 5pm-midnight