Review: Love at Last at Manchester's Australasia
STRANGE - you want to fall in love with the glamorous Antipodean big sister but lose your heart to Little Sis. I love an afternoon sitting in a corner of Grand Pacific (click to read my review) with little plates of sashimi and tempura and perhaps a gin-based cocktail (I'll pass on the "Australasian Porn Star") but up the stairs to the sexy, golden buzz of main restaurant Australasia and I get all shy.
There were mixed food experiences in the past as the kitchen struggled to sublimate all those Pacific Rim aspirations, but recent forays to see how it's all working out under new exec development chef Dave Spanner have proved a revelation. Attention on Living Ventures' new Spinningfields big hitters, Artisan and Manchester House has taken the heat off Australasia and Aussie Spanner has proved a real Mister Fixit with the merest of fine tuning.
His new menu features dishes such as cured salmon, seed crust with a mandarin and artichoke salad. Very new Australasia. I wonder if it featured at Woolloomooloo and Plouf, curiously named previous culinary billets of his (I do love delving into chef's back catalogues).
Consistency is the thing and Australasia has it now. The cocktails have always been great (the wine choice on the annoying iPads less so); the service from the Beautiful Things is attentive and slick; and the food up there with the city centre's best (outside the gastro stratosphere occupied by Messrs Rogan and Byrne).
Setting the bar high
Sashimi of yellowfin tuna (£12) and scallops (£10) set the bar high; small glass of Seival Estate Pinot Grigio/Riesling (£6.25) less so. This Brazilian blend outranks much of the Pinot Grigio being hawked around town, but the Riesling takes time to show and I wanted freshness to math the fish.
Soft shell crab and courgette flowers, chilli seasoned (£12.50) was perfect tempura. In the past the batter has offered a soggy dilemma; not so now. Grand Pacific means a trickle small dishes for me. Here we thought we'd do mains. My colleague's rack of lamb (£19.50) had strayed a long way from the Rim despite the presence of Japanese aubergine (grilling and miso are involved), while polenta dished up the carbs.
My slab of monkfish had roasted a tad dry, but the combo with razor clams, chorizo and squid works a savoury treat. (£21). A Bourgogne Rouge from Jean-Claude Boisset had not seen eye to eye with the chilli-seasoned tempura, but complemented the mains beautifully.
Puddings in this operation are a maverick bunch. We stayed away this time from the deconstructed carrot cake with with cream cheese ice-cream; safer to stick with the souffles and sorbets, pineapple, passionfruit and coconut concoctions. Spanner, who I remember fondly from the now deceased Livebait (not a phrase you often hear) has obviously had an impact. I may even ditch LIttle Sis.
Australasia, 1 The Avenue, Spinningfields, M3 3AE, www.australasia.uk.com
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.