Australasia, The Avenue, Spinningfields, Manchester, M3 3AP – Visit Now
Australasia has been a central fixture of Spinningfields, long before this area became recognised as the go-to district of Manchester for upper-end dining, drinking and shopping. The venue itself is hidden deep below the pavement, the only clue to its existence the 2001-style (the film, not the year) glass structure that juts out of the ground. I challenge you to find a more upscale way to enter the belly of Manchester.
Inside you’ll find an attractive restaurant and cocktail bar, complete with DJ and ever-accommodating staff. It’s certainly not a place you’ll go to in your scruffs, but the atmosphere is far from stuffy, more geared towards people who like to dress up for a night out. And so you should, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of glamour.
Pan-Asian dishes make up the menu, ranging from unique sushi twists to more Westernised courses, such as steaks, seafood and grilled meats. There’s a wide range of small plates, along with some solid mains, catering for both the traditionalist who demand a starter-main-dessert, and the more reckless type looking to flit across a variety of smaller tapas-style dishes.
The first thing you’ll note is how very polished it all feels. No rough-round-the-edges ramshackle dining here, this is professionally-prepared food for people who want the best. The menu might share similarities with the likes of Cottonopolis and Grand Pacific, but the overall feel is up there with Manchester’s best, such as The French and Manchester House.
The new menu has just been released, featuring a host of fabulously-prepared seafood dishes such as grilled oysters (the only way to eat oysters, in my not-really-that-humble opinion), octopus tempura and torched mackerel.
You may find yourself in the odd position of eating sushi with a knife and fork
But if you come craving meat, the BBQ lamb cutlets are a must-try. The minimalist description on the menu in no way does it justice. These slender bones boast thick slabs of tender leg meat, coated with a wonderfully thick nutty sauce that gives off all kinds of long-roasted flavours, from caramel to cashew nuts. Plus it comes with a crunchy salad that has just the right amount of vinegary pep, providing a perfect foil for the luxurious dark meat.
Living up to its regionally-themed moniker, Australasia’s sushi is exceptional. The Peking duck California rolls come packed with a generous chunk of plum-tinged duck meat, spring onion and cucumber, along with a thin sliver of bright yellow mango draped over it. The only problem being that one is much more than a mouthful, so you may find yourself in the odd position of eating sushi with a knife and fork. There are worse things in life.
The tempura prawns are fine, soft and fresh, coated with a light crunchy batter. Interestingly, they come with a little mound of grated daikon radish (apparently the most popular vegetable in Japan), that you swirl through the tempura dip. It adds a very subtle salty sweetness, and in truth, probably isn’t all that necessary but it does add a pleasing touch of hands-on theatre.
The best of the new dishes is undoubtedly the roasted scallops. These come with pickled apple, ginger puree, seaweed and wasabi, making for a perfectly sweet mouthful of mollusc.
But classics, such as the seared teriyaki beef, shouldn’t be ignored. These melt-in-the-mouth slices of rare beef are one of the best things on the menu, alongside the charmingly-named yum yum squares (deep-fried cubes of sushi rice) which comes with little bowls of tart and tangy tuna, and creamy avocado.
But we save the finest for last – before the desserts anyway. The crisp suckling pork belly with pineapple curry has been a long-standing fixture on the menu, as befits the favourite meal of Tim Bacon, the sadly-departed boss of Living Ventures. It too, has had a tweak for the new menu, with eight plump slices of pork, rather than the previous five. The fat is the thickest, crispiest, most succulent layer of flesh you’ll find for miles, and the side smear of pineapple curry is heart-racingly good.
Desserts match up well. The caramelised white chocolate and almond cake with passion fruit ice cream is new to the menu, and is introduced by a touch of tableside theatre, with a jug of hot white chocolate poured over the bowl, melting the thick rim of chocolate so it coats the almond cake below. The jasmine, apple and vanilla panna cotta with green apple sorbet is a more complex and somewhat confusing dish, with little pull-out sheets of sugar glass and tiny green cubes of apple. It’s delicious for sure, but it’s more edible Jenga than a dessert staple.
If there’s anything to criticise about Australasia, it’d be the price. But as stated earlier, this is more a Pan-Asian fine dining menu than a quick bite to eat. You get what you pay for, and in Manchester right now, this is up there with the very, very best. Pull out your sharpest togs and have a taste of the high-life.