The Dolphin Hotel, Level 2/412 Crown St, Surry Hills, Sydney
Surry Hills is the Ponsonby of Sydney, close to the CBD but far enough away to still be cool. Head into the institution that is The Dolphin Hotel, go upstairs, sneak through a little black door and head up another flight to cocktail bar Scout.
The view: Once you've found your way inside Scout, the view will be all about the bar. Simple, clean and modern, it's a moody space with big old sash windows offering a lofty vantage of the leafy street below.
The vibe: I love it when the best seats are at the bar and you can chat with the bartender and your neighbours. This is the kind of watering hole where you won't mind going alone, in a James Bond kind of fashion. Except you wouldn't ask for a shaken martini. Scout is a bar that's all about the drinks, so you'd be a fool to order off-menu, because the concoctions created here are so good.
On the night I went there was a guest bartender from Paris named Hyacinthe Lescoet. Usually found mixing drinks at The Cambridge Public House in London, he had a special pop-up drinks menu here. He was generous with his chat, sharing that he was in the middle of a self-driven Asia-Pacific bar tour to learn and share his knowledge of the craft of bartending. Each of his drinks was modern and themed, such as "Funky Colada" made with Plantation rum blends, white nectarine and goat's milk.
The menu: Everything is curated from something interesting: unusual, often foraged ingredients. I had four drinks, two from the Lescoet pop-up menu and two from the Scout menu. Each drink had a delicate yet acute flavour, like a signal of intensity rather than a blend, they were quite exquisite. The winner for me was "Not Mushroom for Improvement": tequila, mandarin skin, local butter, mushroom honey and horseradish acidity.
The expectation: I'd heard about Scout London's owner Matt Whiley and his book The Modern Cocktail. He's credited with leading a change in new-age cocktails where it's not just about the alcohol. Rather, there's a combination of fermentations, distillations and a curation of each ingredient that goes into a drink. I hoped to find this at Scout in Sydney and I certainly did.
The reality: Though the location seems a little odd at first, it didn't impact on the experience. The drinks are world-class and any cocktail lover would be right at home in a seat at the bar, sipping away at the creations.
- Arjun Haszard