Gordo Reviews Australasia
The Fat One re-assesses the glamorous Deansgate destination
MODERN Australian cuisine combines Pacific Rim flavours underpinned by European cooking traditions, a blend of Indonesian, Southeast Asian influences and Australia's strong ties with Japan also help determine the taste and style.
Tempura soft shell crab and chilli seasoned courgette flowers (£12.50) carry the excellent lightness of touch with this potentially depressing method. But here, truly light crunchy batter covers excellent ingredients.
That's Gordo stealing off the official website by the way folks. Not because he is being lazy, but it's a much better description of the food proposition than he can give. Where you lot get your VFM (value for money) from is of course if Gordo tells you the truth.
Is it any good?
The Fat One did you all a disservice last year in reviewing the place only a week after it had opened. That naughty owner of Living Ventures, Mr Bacon, had promised Gordo that the original chef was here to stay, so Gordo, high on barbiturates after nearly having a toe amputated went a bit crazy score-wise (long story and the editor won't let him put up as it would put you all off dinner).
The score was an unparalleled 19/20 in the North West. The chef was a New Zealander who had won chef of the year in Australasia and was delivering near-perfect food.
Three days after the review landed, the chef took off. He has never been seen since. And service and food started to pitch up and down like crazy.
During the latter half of this year things started to even out with the kitchen, who were working well as a team, with no main man in the spotlight - an idea that can work but usually doesn't.
The service has become spot on again, the staff growing in confidence having learnt to staple their own personality onto the Tim Bacon OCD service training. They score just shy of a perfect five out of five.
The room itself is a real buzz. Walking down the stairs into the place, with the bar on the left and the restaurant on the right, it has the feel of a 1930's movie set in Shanghai, a bit colonial and very sexy.
What about the food? Gordo has been in three times recently, once to see how they are getting on and try out a very good lunch menu; secondly to eat the new additions to the a la carte and thirdly to do the official review.
Gordo's tip is to get a jug of infused water for the table, in particular the cucumber variety; it's very refreshing and stops you drinking the wine too quickly, unless you are with Gordo's best mate, Shagger Sharrock. Nothing can stop competitive drinking with Howie.
The wine list is on an iPad, something that Gordo thought a bit poncey eighteen months ago. There are some great new world picks on there from memory, but as the wine list is not available on the web site Gordo can't be arsed to go through it in detail. He can tell you that they aren't out of order on the margins and you can get sub-twenty quid bottles. There are top end champagnes too if you're on a celebration.
Ok, Ok, the food.
Over twenty dishes have been tried, so here's Gordo's selection including a couple of mistakes.
The smoked eel Nigiri Sushi (£6.50) is a smoky, omega-oily deeply satisfying delight. The soft shell crab Californian/Tempura rolls (£8) looks like they have been working out on muscle beach, big and fresh, crunchy and tanned, flavours, textures and attitude rolled into one.
Oysters at £10 for a mixed plate of six are always spot on.
Tempura soft shell crab and chilli seasoned courgette flowers (£12.50) carry the excellent lightness of touch with this potentially depressing (when its done badly, thick and glutinous) method. But here, truly light crunchy batter covers excellent ingredients. Also in this department are the major-moreish Popcorn tempura, (£5) which are truly great fun, served with a dipping portion of spiced salt.
From the Robata grill comes mackerel in banana leaves (£8.50) which looks pretty horrific yet tastes great, fleshy fresh pieces of one of Gordo's favourite fishes baked for the right time, prickly with strong Asian heat.
Beetroot salad with goat's cheese and honey (£8.50) will be ordered again and again. Black cod roasted in hoba leaf (£19.50). That hoba is the leaf of a Japanese tree used to wrap food when cooking. Gordo can't get any aromatics from it. The cod is bloody spectacular, whilst it isn't cod, but from a fish swimming off Chilean waters, a sustainable and in this instance, a better alternative to our cod. Try it.
Roasted foie gras with a pineapple mango spring roll (£13.50) sees the foie cooked to perfection whilst the pineapple is a bit overpowering. Stick to mango here chef?
Crab stick with avocado salad and cucumber sorbet (£11.50) ; stunning. That Is All.
Off the Robata grill again, we have Confidential's favourite dish, Szechuan salt and pepper beef skewers with sweet soy and crispy shallots (£9). Take this dish as the final small plate, it will overpower the delicate dishes otherwise.
Crispy suckling pork belly with a pineapple curry (£15.50) uses the pineapple well here, whilst the pieces look a bit on the large side for a suckling pig; no matter, they are generally brilliant with crunchy crackling, except once, a bit of a tragedy at the time, as Gordo was judging the restaurant in the final two of the MFDF Restaurant Of The Year.
Two-way duck with wilted choi sum (£17.50) had a weirdly tough breast, the rest of the dish and flavours with red and gold beetroot joining the party being exemplary.
We should all now know that the Mango soufflé with coconut ice cream and mango soup (7.50) is in contention for pudd of the year second time running - never once had a bad one of these. Try the baked banana boat with popcorn ice-cream (£7.50) as well, real memories of childhood when my gran was using up over-ripe bananas, loved it.
Give the Powder pink meringues with buttermilk cream and rosewater ice cream (£7.50) a miss until the pastry cooks can promise meringue that is gooey in the middle and not like those rocks the Mars rover vehicle keeps crushing into dry dust samples in its little laboratories all those miles away.
All in all Australasia has settled into a master class of how to deliver an interesting, stimulating dining experience by Messrs Bacon and Roberts of Living Ventures.
Unashamedly get your glad rags on for this place, it's a delightful night out.
1 The Avenue
Spinningfields, M3 3AE
A menu of Pacific Rim flavours underpinned by European cooking tradition, an exotic blend of Indonesian and Southeast Asian influences. Australia's strong ties with Japan also help determine taste and style.