June 8th, 2011

Gordo Takes Another Trip Down-under to Australasia

Gordo thinks the new place on Deansgate is very special
Published on June 6th 2011.

Gordo Takes Another Trip Down-under to Australasia

YOU MAY, or may not have heard of Australasia. You may have heard it first from Confidential, when we broke the news last year. Anything that scores over eighteen out of twenty is worthy of a Michelin star; whether or not this brilliantly cool contemporary restaurant will achieve a Michelin Star here in Manchester is questionable with the current crop of Michelin inspectors.

Gordo remembers talking to Mike Ingall, gaffer of Allied London, the team which built Spinningfields.

Mike had done a u-turn on his policy of concentrating on bringing mediocre brands into the estate with strong credit ratings: Café Rouge being a good example. Local operators without triple AAA credit ratings had until that point little chance of securing prime space in this otherwise well run area.

Mike went hunting again, with an eye to getting some quality local operators in. One team he went after were the boys who, well over a decade ago, transformed Manchester’s bar scene with The Living Room, which spawned copycats across the city and the nation.

The food was good, the place was jumping and the girls looked great. Since then, Tim Bacon and his team have made a couple of step-ups, in particular with Grill on the Alley, a product that regularly delivers great food; in particular with its seafood.

Tim has long since sold The Living Room whilst buying Est Est Est, the Italian chain which was re-branded Gusto, with a proposition that built on the previous menu, improving the chain enormously.

Then came the Alchemist, an instant hit; Alchemist is a bar first and foremost, with a menu that amongst other things delivers the best nachos in town, the food in the main intending to complement the cocktails and mainly fizzy foreign beer. Great burgers as well.

And now we have Australasia.

The restaurant menu and proposition has been a closely guarded secret. Generally, the food in Australia has improved over the past two decades as its sons and daughters went off to travel the world and came back refusing to eat the dross their parents were happy with.

This resulted, along with the influx of immigration from all across the Pacific Rim, with an eclectic cuisine managed by young chefs who weren’t afraid to mix and match ingredients straddling Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and a myriad of others whilst using its native livestock and fish to  best advantage.

Gordo was invited, along with Jonathan Schofield to a menu tasting pre opening. This was the first time the two had stepped foot in the place. The entrance is via a small glass pyramid taking you into the basement below Armani on Deansgate.

The space is a long deep oblong with a bar area to the left and the restaurant seating stretching to the right, where at the far end there is an open kitchen which adds theatre. Along the left hand wall there are semi-private booths of tables for eight or ten, with lattice-work walls where these diners still get the atmosphere along with some degree of privacy.

Seating is comfortable and relaxed, mixed and matched adding to personality, with driftwood trees (you mean dead ones, Ed) floating up to the ceilings. There is a bit of magic going on with the lighting, defeating the basement effect entirely; it feels like the sun is shining at all times.

The menu is a delight to read. In fact it’s too bloody interesting. On a third and final visit with one of Gordo’s colleagues, Ruth Allan, the fat one had trouble in deciding what he was going to have.

Oysters are a great bet here, 6 or a dozen (£19 for 12) will be the best in the North West as John Brannigan, the executive chef across the group, is good at sourcing and has the buying power to get to the front of the queue when the boats come in.

The sushi on all three visits have been the best Gordo has experienced anywhere in Britain. A soft shell crab Californian roll (£7.50 for four) had a deep fried claw crisped perfectly which perfumed the rice with a breeze of toasted garlic; Loc Duart salmon sashimi (£6 for four) and yellow tail tuna sashimi (£6 for four) were firm pieces of fish standing up proud, box cut. It’s a good idea to get the mixed sushi and sashimi selection (£19.50) which will give four people a good sampler.

One strange dish in this section you must try; the scallop parcels in shellfish ‘consume’ (£13), the likes of which Gordo has never experienced. This is a must -ave dish so strange, odd and fabulous it’s an impossibility to describe. ‘Ave it.

There is an area that deals with tempura, salads and small plates, completely ideal for light lunches at sensible prices. The soft shell crab (yes, Gordo has a fetish here) and courgette flowers, chilli seasoned (£12.50) is a dish of massive simplicity with textures and flavour that marks out a clever conductor in the kitchen.

The smoked salmon, pomelo fruit and avocado with horseradish snow (£9.50) was overshadowed by its siblings in all fairness, whilst the sticky pork and tofu with Japanese mushrooms and squid (£9.50) had a sauce as sticky as treacle that matched the slow braised pork beautifully - but Gordo wasn’t sure of the usefulness of the tofu. The mushrooms sat proudly on top with small pieces of well poached squid.

Then there was the roast foie gras and mango on toasted almond (£13.50). Gordo has thought long and hard over two weeks about this dish. And here is his view. It’s the best dish outside London.

The foie gras is a two centimetre slab, cooked swiftly and caramelised on the outside; a mango purée is smeared across the side of the plate, the foie gras sat on a bed of the toasted almonds that give crunchy texture. It was then polished off with poached pineapple cut in small dice. The ‘mouth-feel’ of this loaded together on a fork is close to perfection whilst the slight acidity of the pineapple and toasty nuts melt together with the warm foie gras as well as anything ever could. Gordo would walk across hot coals to get to this dish.

There is a ‘Big Soup’ section untried by Gordo, including an intriguingly named pork “Wonmono” with udon noodles and tofu in a light soy and sake broth (£10).

The mains have been standout; lacquered Barbary duck with ginger and Chinese vegetable salad (£17) ordered by one of Gordo’s guests, James Reddington of Media Vest, woofed it so fast no one else had a chance to taste it.

To get a better lobster dish than this establishment’s pot roasted lobster with kaffir lime, chilli and Thai basil (£45) you would have to visit Gordo’s favourite restaurant in the world, Les Pres d’Eugenie in South West France. That’s a Michelin three star by the way.

The Wagyu steak is stunning, (£40), the raw ingredient being very right to start with is helped along by expert seasoning and a wasabi egg; this latter piece of genius is an egg yolk, runny, injected with wasabi to give it a great kick. Little bits of taste explosions are scattered across all the dishes making each one a journey through tastes you either don’t expect or have never experienced or, indeed, both at once.

Ocean trout fillet with pancetta, caramelised onion and Madeira shallots (£18.50) was tried on two separate occasions, the first time delivered perfectly, the second slightly over cooked; apparently the kitchen were getting complaints that the fish was undercooked by people who still expect theirs dried out in solid flakes. If it was me I would throw them out of the restaurant. The quality of this fish is out of this world, as ever married to ingredients that you don’t expect, crispy pancetta for example working brilliantly with the onions and the fish.

The kitchen makes good use of edible flowers in the presentation, some for show, and others for flavour whilst their use of salad leaves and their dressings is exemplary.

Crispy suckling pork belly with a pineapple curry (£14.50) is another total stand out; the suckling pig juicy, luscious and piggy with the best crisped skin you could ever hope for whilst the pineapple curry is a flavour festival; this dish is, basically, the best sweet and sour pork you will ever eat anywhere in the world.

There are some extras as always; the glazed carrots (£3.50) weren’t to Gordo’s taste, odd texture and sour taste; sweet potato and rosemary mash (£3.50) was totally to Gordo’s taste whilst the mixed Leaf and wild herb salad (£3) was an absolute knockout, particularly as the dressing was a little bit of citrus heaven.

Puddings including chocolate pave with sour cherry jelly, girottine cherries (oooh dear, how good were these with the chocolat…) and miso ice-cream (£7) as well as artisan ice-creams and sorbets (£7). These fellas are in a class of their own. The ice cream here is interesting (ie fucking brilliant) with some special equipment Gordo doesn’t understand; they are churned to order, and are fantastic.

But wait. Mango soufflé with coconut ice-cream and mango soup (£7) is a two star Michelin dish. It is perfection.

Gordo has tried it three times, the first he didn’t think the ice cream was right, but has subsequently surrendered. It is as near perfect a pudding as you will get in Manchester. Gordo had champagne on the second visit, Mumm vintage at £80, and a good Bandol Rose on the second, £35. The wine list comes on an iPad, quite good as it happens. Maybe there could be a few more selections in the £20 to £30 range.

Service is slightly over fussy at present, which comes from the Tim Bacon training school which is brutal in its expectations, rightly so, but will calm down.

The atmosphere is what it should be in a restaurant of this quality, a complete buzz. An occasion. There is a DJ. This worries Gordo, it’s just background music for most of the day, but gets turned up at 11.30 pm for the bar traffic. Two complaints about this from diners on Saturday night; let’s see how it pans out.

Anything that scores over eighteen out of twenty is worthy of a Michelin star; whether or not this brilliantly cool contemporary restaurant will achieve a Michelin Star here in Manchester is questionable with the current crop of Michelin inspectors. Gordo can tell you this; Australasia is a triumph.

Tags: Australasia, Food, Manchester Confidential, Review, Wine
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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.