What is the one school subject that you wished you were better at? For me, it was geography (maths should also burn in the inner recesses of hell but more on that fond school memory some other time).
I wish I was more ‘with-it’ on the geography front and actually knew what the heck was being discussed when one mentioned a far-flung place.
Turns out I was still Cher-Clueless about Australasia, which is why my most recent Google search for my customary pre-review study was: ‘WHAT IS AUSTRALASIA?”
I discovered Australasia included Australia, New Zealand, neighbouring islands in the Pacific Ocean and the island of New Guinea comprising of a total of 14 independent countries and 12 dependent overseas territories. Wow. Who knew food writing would be so… educational?
Australasia has been on my radar for some time. Its glass Louvre-esque pyramid is eye-catching, silently beckoning you inside for modern Australian and Pacific Rim flavours galore. The entrance is a grand affair. You descend golden steps and spy the open-plan seating up ahead, and extensive bar to the left.
It’s a space you want to stick around in. Hat-tip to the interior designers for making me want to loiter on steps in 6 inch heels. This has never happened before, but then again, Australasia is a pretty special place.
Concierge was efficient and with a swish of a tablet, we were shown to our table by Front of House and our server for the afternoon, Affie.
It’s a great menu, comprehensive that you can flick through and wonder at ease, yet compact enough to choose a dish within five minutes.
We kicked off with a few cocktails. The Australasian Pornstar Martini was instilled with a tropical twist by the addition of creamy mango and lychee. I liked it, and found fragrant vanilla soft on the palate, whilst the shot of sparkling Chardonnay provided a pleasantly fizzy backdrop. I’ve seen people drink Pornstar Martinis in various ways, (I prefer pouring the whole shot into the cocktail – but more on cocktail drinking habits in a standalone post). Partner meanwhile had the Beijing Bellini, which had sweet lychee overtones and was a smooth drink to sip.
We started with a sushi Smörgåsbord. Loch Duart salmon nigiri was one of my favourites; al dente rice bundles, with vibrantly orange salmon strewn atop was a dream. It’s a simple dish of fish and rice, which is why it is imperative stellar ingredients are used – there is no hiding behind big flavours. It is a great call by the chefs to use award-winning Scottish salmon fed on as natural a diet as possible (also used by Gordon Ramsay in his kitchens), so he’s in great company too.
Prawn tempura was lighter than a fairy’s breath and the encased prawns succulent and juicy. I especially liked the seaweed side, which was tangy, wondrous and similar in flavour to samphire.
Squid tempura was delicious, especially when swiped through the sriracha mayonnaise, whilst sides of robata grilled asparagus (spring onion, sweet sesame glaze) and tender-stem broccoli (peanuts, chilli) were also tasty and substantial.
I love opening parcels and letters. There is a magical quality about a wrapped package, which is why I loved un-wrapping my main of black cod roasted in hoba leaf, which was a star in its own right.
A hunk of meaty fish, perfectly cooked, flakes with central faint translucence was beautiful to look at, and eat. I almost – almost – didn’t want to break the spell; I guess this is what that Prince Charming dude must have felt like as he gazed at a slumbering Sleeping Beauty (a piece of beautifully roasted cod here). Hint of sweet miso with a kick of lime in the background was heavenly – I am writing this with a smile on my face as I recall the cod in all its hoba-miso glory.
Dining partner had seared Teriyaki beef fillet (sweet soy sauce, spring onion). Presentation was striking, with the silky slivers strewn over a dark-hued platter for dramatic effect.
Dessert is my favourite part of the meal. I have a sweet tooth, and often skip to the back of the menu to check out the pudding offerings before even ordering an appetiser. I loved the dessert menu, and it’s been a few years since I thought every offering was worth exploring. I chose the caramelised white chocolate and almond cake, because white chocolate wins every time.
It was a joy to watch white chocolate being drizzled over the chocolate disc, whilst passion-fruit ice cream formed the most delectable of puddles at the bottom of the bowl. I love frangipane, which given the Australasia treatment, elevated this dish to 10,000 feet (I don’t know how high that is, but it sounds high).
Dining partner had the chocolate dome, which was another dramatic affair. The first thing that hit you was the gorgeous scent of nuts and salted caramel, Add blackberries to the mix, and you’ve got one heady, classy concoction.
Dining at Australasia is a joy. Fond memories are created of good food; I am still dreaming of that black cod. I need to stop thinking about this fish dish, as I am grinning like a Cheshire cat and I have to stop, as I don’t want to freak out fellow café-goers as they wonder what I’m enamoured about. Presentation is stunning. Front of house – Affie in particular, is sublime. The surroundings are pretty spectacular. It’s an inventive menu that uses quality ingredients where you can really taste the difference. And the dramatic effect of those desserts is (pardon the pun), the icing on the cake. Don’t bother going to watch a movie – get down to Australasia and watch in suspense as you enjoy the glorious show of melting chocolate desserts and golden stairways.
Rating: (1: Hate: I’d rather eat my shoe – 10: Love: I’d sell my kidney for a meal here)
Value for money: 9
Restaurant name: Australasia
Open since: August 2011
Address: The Avenue, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3AP
Opening times: Mon-Sun 12:00pm-10:45pm
How to make reservation: Telephone / website
Call: 0161 831 0288
Head Chef: Ryan Miles
Front of House: Affie
Wheelchair friendly: Yes
Whilst in the area: Take a stroll through Spinningfields and pop into Mulberry or Flannels for this season’s on trend pieces.