Review: Australasia Restaurant In Manchester
You won't find any barbies or beers at Australasia, just a sybaritic smorgasbord of eclectic delicacies designed to scintillate and satiate the taste buds of one and all.
The combination of a childhood televisual diet of Neighbours and Home and Away, travelling around the big rock and dating one of its natives has rendered me the purveyor of a pretty bonza faux-Australian accent, even if I say so myself (and it is usually only myself that says so). So, of the opportunity to visit Spinningfield's Australasia and discuss the various merits of one of my favourite culinary styles in my favourite accent, well, all I could say was, "Strewth!"
Leaving my Shelia at the homestead, I meet up with an old cobber and we enter the glass prism in the centre of Spinningfield Avenue plaza that shelters the staircase that leads to the subterranean restaurant (I'm not going to do a ‘down under' pun...it's beneath me. Ha! Get it?!). After checking our coats with the youthful reception staff who also man the gigantic set of electronic decks that pump gentle, stylish electronica throughout the venue, we take a seat at the bar and order a couple of cocktails on the bartender's recommendation. The pick of the pair has to be the Smokey Old Fashioned which arrives in a laboratory beaker, which undulates clouds of vapour that have been infused into the cocktail via a woodchip-loaded smoke gun. After pouring the liquid over a single, pool ball-shaped globe of ice in a separate glass, the intense, butterscotch-sweetened bourbon is ready to quaff, which I do with alacrity.
Relocating to the plush booth near the busy open kitchen, we are handed an iPad that lists all of the drinks along with descriptions and pairing suggestions; so far, so Shoreditch. The menu is impressive simply in its sheer magnitude alone, with an entire section dedicated to sushi before listing dozens of small plates and a decent and varied selection of main courses and desserts. On the advice of our waiter, we opt for a tapas-esque array of smaller plates and begin our Australasian adventure.
A plate of sushi and sashimi sufficiently whets our appetites, the raw kingfish shipped all the way from the owner's homeland, Tasmania; the fresh wasabi is grated at the table and adds a powerful punch to the impressive selection of Asian-inspired amuse bouches. Things kick up a gear with a truly irresistible tuna tartar that sports a wasabi foam and a thin, coiled strip of gherkin adding a delightful tang to the raw fish's smooth consistency. Mini slabs of roasted foie gras are adorned with pickled rhubarb and a still-warm smattering of charred hazelnuts and walnuts that deliver a satisfying crunch alongside the velvet texture of the delicious liver. Tempura battered soft shell crab and courgette flowers are seasoned with spicy flecks of chilli and served with a bowl of soy and a daikon (Japanese root vegetable) that we dunk in the soy to enliven its piquancy. Someone has clearly been doing their homework...
This sedulous attention to detail continues with the third round of dishes, with teriyaki beef arranged in overlapping strips, their soft texture the perfect base for the scattered spring onions to excite one's palate. Better still is the duo of plump, luscious scallops that lie on top of individual wedges of glazed pork, divided by a slim wisp of crackling and coated in a roe-scattered spiced honey lacquer. Just when we thought that all of our crows had been stoned, a little ripper of a dish arrives on our table in the form of a fillet of black cod that had been roasted whilst wrapped in a hoba leaf. The restaurant's signature speciality has a delicate texture and oven-smoked aromas that combine with the sweetened tang of the accompanying miso sauce dip to leave us pretty gobsmacked to say the least; worth the trip alone, I can assure you.
Almost fit to burst from all of this top tucker, we manage to squeeze in desserts; the lemon crème brûlée that arrives hermetically sealed in a tin foil-lidded jar is a real winner, the understated subtlety of the tangy cream perfectly complemented by a tart and zesty raspberry sorbet.
Upon resurfacing to the brisk Manchester evening, I realise that, just like its namesake continent, it's difficult to imagine anyone who wouldn't thoroughly enjoy a visit to Australasia; and to any Doubting Tommies out there, I'd say, "Just give it a go, ya flaming galah!"
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.