Lee Joseph Hagan heads underground to sample the very best of Manchester's fine dining
Louvre-esque entrance and sophisticated décor aside, Australasia is certainly not your average Manchester restaurant. Living Ventures are clearly focused upon a future in which the city's culinary reputation extends beyond a trendy bistro or two - this is the real deal. A tour courtesy of Louise Kemp (Australasia's brand business development manager) began the elegant proceedings. Led from the upmarket cocktail bar to the impressive glass walled kitchen to our immaculately laid table, two iPads are on standby to present the carefully selected wine list.
Located in the fashionable Spinningfields, the giant glass pyramidal structure lures the diner into a subterranean heaven of cream brick walls, foliage free trees and blond wood flooring. The plush booths boast individual sound systems and the lights drip low and languid from the ceiling casting an intimate glow. Manchester boasts no equivalent in style, but style does not earn you culinary kudos.
After attending the launch of Grand Pacific earlier this month (Australasia's younger sister, the two linked via a secluded staircase), although happily sated by champagne, cocktails and fabulous canapés, I felt myself seduced by the call of the older, grander, more established sibling, promising Australasian cuisine with Pacific Rim flavours, all underpinned by European cooking tradition. I hastily reserved a table for the following evening.
Menu choices are quickly decided upon. Beginning with seared hand dived scallops with spicy honey (perfectly cooked), followed by a cannon of lamb, Japanese breadcrumbs and miso mustard with plum wontons, it is easy to forget your location and your table manners. Delicious. The food here is seriously special, excitingly so - proved by the shriek of delight that greets my dessert of mango soufflé with coconut ice-cream and mango soup (quaintly served in a tiny glass teapot). The menu politely asks you to wait 20 minutes for this dessert - I would happily wait an hour.
For me there was only one way to finish the evening and that was with a cocktail at Grand Pacific in the company of Manchester's most beautiful and stylish.
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.