Vada Go Down Under At Australasia
Head to Spinningfields and go Down Under to find subterranean restaurant Australasia, serving the very best in contemporary Australian food. Australia, existing as it is on the edge of the map, calls as its own a saucy blend of European and Pacific Rim flavours. Australasia is no different - with Indonesian, Southeast Asian and Japanese influences evident across the menu.
Though Australasia is located deep underneath Spinningfields, it never once feels dark. With the bare trees, white decor and ample lighting, you don't even realise that you're underground. Australasia has a bright, colonial-verandah-like ambience, and it makes the perfect retreat from the dreary Manchester rain whatever time of day it is.
We recently visited Australasia to check out the new lunch menu, which offers tapas-style small plates before 5pm, Monday through Friday. Two dishes are £12, three are £16 and four for £21 - meaning you can pack in more than enough flavour into your lunch hour.
I arrived a short time ahead of my colleague, so opted to take a green tea at the bar while I waited for him, although the restaurant was empty enough at that time that I could have sat down straight away. I usually quite enjoy a drink at the bar before being seated anyway, as it's easier to look busy (read: not like a loner) when you're sat at a bar looking at a cocktail menu, rather than at a big table all on your own.
Once my colleague arrived, however, we were quickly seated, and my drink brought over to the table for me, so that I didn't have to carry it. I always think that's a nice touch, and it's something I've come to expect at Living Ventures restaurants, and part of the reason I continue to trust them and return time and again (consistency is a big thing in my book).
Once seated, we were offered infused waters for the table, and opted for the lemon, mint and cucumber water (£3.75). This was refreshing and far easier to glug down than a jug of tap water or Evian.
It had been over a year since my last visit, which was for a leaving party. Because we were such a large group (and I wasn't organising things), we were treated to an amazing taster menu. So while that was spectacular, it was nice to get to order our own food as an alternative, because it allowed us to explore what else the restaurant has to offer.
We opted for a diverse selection (for purely journalistic reasons, you understand), so made sure we had fish, meat and vegetables to try.
First we had the stir-fried mussels with chilli, sweet basil and peanuts. My colleague Daniel had somehow gone his whole life without ever trying mussels, so this was something of a risk for us (Dan either likes something or hates it). However, it quickly became apparent that he couldn't get enough of the mussels, and is now a sworn convert. The sweet basil and chilli are full of flavour, without overpowering the flavour of the mussels themselves, and the peanuts provide texture and nuttiness to offset the spice.
We also ordered the poke-style tuna, which is a kind of raw fish salad from Hawaii (poke means ‘chunk' in Hawaiian, and traditionally refers to any kind of meat, although it is usually fish). The tuna was marinated to perfection, so that it was both juicy and tasty.
Next we had the tempura vegetables. The tempura batter was light and crispy, and the vegetables inside were firm and fresh. We dipped these in soya sauce with some chilli for a light and (relatively) healthy accompaniment.
The red fish curry was another favourite, served with sticky jasmine rice, and packed full of Thai-style vegetables. It wasn't particularly spicy, but had a kick to it. It was also creamy and satisfying without being overly rich. That's always a good thing.
The sticky pork with Vietnamese salad and smashed peanuts was refreshing and indulgent at once. Finally, the seared teriyaki beef was cooked to perfection and served with a peanut and baby leaf mixed salad, dressed in sweet chilli sauce.
If you want to order from the main menu, you have an even wider choice, including oysters (a bargain at £12.50 for six), a variety of meats from the grill, big plates and some seriously good, 28-day-aged steaks. Small plates on the main menu include decadent treats like a foie gras brulee (£13) and a crisp soft shell crab with ginger and lemongrass tea (£11.50).
Sushi and sashimi lovers will also love Australasia, since there's plenty to choose from, and you can pair these with a variety of Asian beers, sake, cocktails or - if you have to nip back to work afterwards - some refreshing mocktails and soft drinks.
Desserts (all priced £7.50) include a delicious mango soufflé with coconut ice cream and mango soup, and a chocolate dome with salted caramel and blackberries (we enjoyed the latter so much we wanted two).
Price-wise, the lunch menu is exceptionally good value for money. Our previous foray, with a set menu with a similar number of courses, had cost twice as much for food alone. Even four dishes each at £21 per person is worth it, because the quality of the food is that good.
The service at Australasia was also standout. The food came in a timely fashion and everything was brought to the table without fuss or disappointment.
For more information or to book a table, visit australasia.uk.com.
1 The Avenue, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3AE
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.