The clocks going forward can only mean two things: lighter evenings to enjoy more sunshine, and new menus as restaurants welcome in the new season.
Australasia Manchester has a promising new menu, which will – you have been warned – evoke hunger pangs even when casually browsing. I have visited Australasia before, finding it light and airy in the day-time, then cosy yet cool at dusk. Would the new menu cement Australasia’s place on my Mancunian Must Visit List?
Having arrived for our 5:30pm reservation, we were whisked away by the efficient concierge to our table. For the uninitiated, Australasia celebrates modern Australian cuisine, deftly combining Pacific Rim flavours with European, Indonesian and Japanese influences.
The menu’s versatility is a boon. If you’re in the mood for lighter bites, “go local” and choose several smaller plates from pages 3 to 5.
If you’re Starvin’ Marvin (story of my life), “go traditional” by choosing starters and a main from pages 6 and 7. If you’re a generous soul who loves sharing (what is wrong with you?), your starters can be placed in the middle of the table, and you can have the main yourself.
I have an odd relationship with small plates-tapas.
How many to order?
Will the plates be big enough?
What order will they come out?
If I over-order, will the wait-staff know I’m a greedy guzzler? (It is fine I know that, it is perhaps not so nice when the world knows my dirty little secret.)
These and a myriad questions usually pepper my mind rat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat, which is why I tend to prefer the traditional three courses comprising of starter, main and dessert. I feel you know where you are with this approach.
However when reviewing, I force myself – vein in neck dangerously bulging – to go for the small plate option. If there are more dishes ordered, there is more to write about. I was needlessly paranoid, as our server was well informed and gave us a steer on how many dishes to order.
We kicked off with a mixed plate of oysters. The nam jin and soy mirin variation was gorgeously punchy, the garlic and chilli combination providing piquancy on the swallow.
Oysters with lemon crème fraiche, cured cucumber and Avruga caviar was decadent and refreshing in its citrus-based glory, layers of tang popping through to provide phenomenal depth. (Honest to God I have just made myself hungry thinking about Austalasia’s oysters, I will need to grab a snack if I am to continue.)
California rolls (salmon, cream cheese, chilli, cucumber) were fresh, generous morsels that I could eat a plate of and not get bored. Tuna tartare was the best I have eaten in a while, and the wafer-crisp tempura nori brought the dish together nicely.
My list of loves include the Spice Girls (their tour announcement was just on the radio, sorry for the minor digression), tempura and soft-shell crab.
I have never had tempura covered rolls, and as I was in an adventurous mood, the soft-shell crab tempura rolls seemed to be a good choice. Lovely rolls with a barely-there batter were good, especially when dunked into dashi-based tentsuyu sauce to deliver a hefty umami punch.
Pork wontons were meaty and moreish, crisp pastry providing a satisfying crunch before yielding perfectly seasoned meat. I swiped the wonton through vibrant sweetcorn purée, Sriracha and sesame soy, which rendered the wonton as all the more delicious.
Roasted scallops with cauliflower purée and wakame pickle were my favourite. The translucent flesh of just-cooked scallops married well with wakame, that had a subtly sweet beginning, yet ended with a tangy burst.
Roasted baby aubergines were another hot favourite. I adore the blank canvas versatility of aubergines, which was perfect with lashings of wonderfully unctuous caramel miso. Dancing flakes of katsuobushi provided a smoky punch and a bit of theatre.
I am a curious soul, which is why the playfully titled Yum Yum Squares were another choice at our table. They turned out to be squares that were actually yummy. Now, bear with me on this. Rice, fashioned into a cube and deep-fried might sound as enticing as watching the Dirty John series on Netflix (i.e. very blah). But eating seasoned rice (the exterior had a slight chew) with spicy tuna and creamy avocado was an unexpected joy.
For brevity, the impressive dessert bento box sharing selection consisted of:
- Strawberry and lychee cheesecake with strawberry popcorn
(Creamy cheesecake with fragrant lychee in the background.)
Drink: + Yuzushu citrus sake
- Kaffir lime crème brûlée with pineapple sorbet
(A very well made crème brûlée, replete with burnished top. I wasn’t sure about the flavour, as I am used to eating kaffir lime in savoury curries, but eaten with the pineapple sorbet diluted the kaffir lime flavour rendering it interesting on the palate.)
Drink: + Plantation pineapple rum
- Chocolate dome with peanut, honeycomb and salted caramel coconut friande
(Bold flavours of dark chocolate and buttery salted caramel were delicious. I especially liked the crunchy honeycomb. An all-round joy to eat.)
Drink: + Ron Zacapa 23yr
- Pistachio & passionfruit macarons
(Macarons with a slight chew were very good. Pistachio is one of my favourite flavours, and those creamy nutty notes with zingy passionfruit made these macarons highly moreish.)
We sipped a few Stormy Daniels cocktails throughout the meal, whose ginger notes went especially well with the tuna tartare, pork wontons and scallops.
From on-point dishes whose memory will stay with you like your first literary crush (Hercule Poirot, if you’re asking), to an elevated level of dining (the waitress grating fresh wasabi at the table was a lovely touch), dining at Australasia is a real treat for the senses. A visit right about now is highly recommended.
Rating: (1: Hate – 10: Love)
Restaurant name: Australasia, Manchester
Address: The Avenue, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3AP
Open since: August 2011
Opening times: Mon-Sun 12:00pm-10:45pm
Wheelchair friendly: Yes
Caters for dietary requirements: Yes – dairy/gluten free, vegetarian and vegan options.
Quietest table: The 50’s
How to make reservation: Telephone or online
Telephone: 0161 831 0288
Head Chef: There is a close knit team of senior chefs.
General Manager: Michael Dell’Armi