January 21st, 2013

A Continent Of Flavours In A Mouthful – Australasia Reviewed

A Continent Of Flavours In A Mouthful – Australasia Reviewed

The attention to detail is just quite breathtaking in Australasia's quest to give its customers the perfect mouthful.

If this review had a soundtrack it would be je t'aime. This was an orgy of fabulous food porn. Perfect dishes tantalising the palate, beautifully presented, and I mean 10 out of 10 beautiful, touching all the senses with each dish working together into a climax of fabulous tastes.

It surprised me to hear that Australasia is just four month's off its 2nd birthday because it has established itself so quickly on the gourmet map. For those of you who haven't been it's in Spinningfields, down the mysterious staircase next to Armani.

Once you make your entrance it is a soothing, white wood, exposed brick, chilled and cool environment that Ginger felt like The Kingdom of Gondor. There's a cocktail bar one end and then the restaurant with scores of comfy booths with squishy, don't want to get out of cushions. The vibe is Hed Kandi cool with a DJ playing a system that looks like something out of Star Wars and the staff, friendly, relaxed with an air of efficiency and competence. They know what they're doing and seam to enjoy the job.

The clientele is a mix of business types, cool casuals and a lot of girls who looked like Kardashians but I don't think they were. It's also a perfect hideaway as I can never get a signal down there.

The food is a fusion, so the blurb says, of modern Australian cuisine with touches of Pacific Rim flavours and well, a melting pot of different cultures. It is relaxed fine-dining. You can go the trad route of starter, mains, pud or share small plates (always a bit dangerous with Ginger and Dubai around). It's is nowhere near as pricey as you probably imagine with plates starting from £5 (which can double as starters) and mains from £13.50. In fact the steaks start from £15.50 which is an absolute bargain given the quality.

Our delightful and refreshingly passionate waiter Dale knew his onions, well knew everything about food and clearly loved his job.

He was our guide, choosing our dishes and cleverly ensuring that each set of plates that came in 10 or so minute intervals, complemented each other.

After checking what we liked and weren't so keen on as well Dubai's nut allergy (not so dramatic that Ginger and I would have to stab him with a pen if he inhaled one by accident), the first wave of dishes came out.

And so we started on this epic food fest. First out was smoked eel sushi. Looking nothing like a writhing, snake like thing, it is an elegant chopstick full of flavours. I've never eaten eel before because like many people, I just don't fancy the sound of it. This was smoky, and gloriously fishy which surprised me.

Then it was onto one the eatery's signatures, soft shell crab with courgette flowers. Heaven, and an example of how the garnish isn't garnish but an integral part of the flavour sensation as guided by Dale.

Then, as Dubai said, ‘wow'. The pan-fried scallops on pork cake with a swish of apple sauce. You have to get each element of that on a forkful, and as I wrote in my notes, it was like eating a continent of flavours in one mouthful. This was my personal show-stopper dish and I will be back to have a plate just to myself with absolutely no sharing.

Wave two brought the first veggie option and to be honest, there's not much for non fish or meat eaters. These were yum, yum rice squares, bland on their own but totally and aptly yummy with the two accompanying relishes.

Roasted foie gras (see what I mean about not being too veggie-orientated and personally I love that confident approach of just going for it because it tastes good) came with pineapple and mango, in a foam that Ginge thought like washing up liquid.

Dubai (being from Swinton) had never had foie gras, so I helpfully explained what it was and therefore had most of this dish to myself. It can be an acquired taste and not one the lads achieved in their first exposure. It was good, and Dale said it was a new foie gras dish. I'm not so keen on the mix with the fruit, but the shots of ginger were the perfect counterpoint.

The next wave brought another signature - Black cod. This is in fact not cod at all but saddle fish that gets its great flavour because of a fatty layer Dale explained. I'm afraid it was then a chopstick fight (I am apparently the Bruce Lee of chopsticks), with all of us vying and not being very gallant about sharing this dish. Superbly presented in a ‘Hobbit' like leaf wrapping.

Szechuan salt and pepper skewers were so tender that my veneers were never in any danger and definitely a hit with the boys.

Wave three and prawns with red chilli were just the right side of spicy. Roasted aubergine with mustard misto was the second veggie dish of the night and was full of smoky flavours but the real hit of this for me was grilled mackerel in banana leaves, as Ginger said, awesome.

We were washing this down with a fruity fizz and the boys also indulged in a couple of cocktails, with a side of orange and ginger infused water that is meant to detox the liver (good luck with that). With house wines from £19, again it just shows how reasonable the prices are. Ginger described his Apple Martini as sharp & sour with a refreshing burst. Blatantly made from Granny Smith apples, which went really well with the pork dish.

Then it was onto puds and a real surprise because I have never before ventured this far when I've eaten at Australasia in the past.

My powder pink meringues with rosewater looked so beautiful and like something out of Alice in Wonderland. The slight parma violet type tang was just the right delicacy and I loved it but the boys weren't keen - maybe it's the pink Barbie girl in me.

Ginger's lemon and vanilla cheesecake with pistachio sponge, again not only looked the part but was perfect cheesecake, all the more surprising in the mouth because it didn't look like cheesecake.

Dubai's chocolate soufflé was another winner and he had counted eight different elements to this one dish. I reckon these are some of the best desserts in town and worth a venture for anyone with a remotely sweet tooth.

On the I Love Ometer - We would take Australasia to have and to hold, from this day forward. Let's get it on.

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Tags: Australasia, I love Manchester, Review
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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.

With an extension of Australasia is Grand Pacific - a contemporary colonial oasis in the heart of Spinningfields. Combining modern Australian cuisine and Pacific Rim flavours with a wealth of delicious cocktails, Grand Pacific offers a lighter side of the Australasia experience . With a canopied outdoor garden, Grand Pacific is a refreshing retreat from the bustle of the city.