By Jo Cooksey
Australasia, the subterranean restaurant on the Deansgate edge of Spinningfields, has been a ‘must visit’ venue since it opened in 2011 and we recently discovered why. As you descend the steps, in to the cool, colonial-style interior, you immediately feels the cares of life start to melt away.
A Little Antipodean Sunshine
This ray of Antipodean sunshine in the heart of Manchester, has menus that showcase the very best of Pacific Rim cuisine, with sushi from Japan and many favourites from South East Asia. When we were originally invited to go along, it was to sample the Lighter Nights for Lighter Bites menu, which is served between 4 and 6pm, Monday to Friday. You can choose one snack, one sushi, two small plates and one side for just £25.00pp
However, we couldn’t get there before 6.30 so they kindly let us choose off the a la carte menu instead. There is an extensive choice of sushi and large and small dishes and you can mix and match to your heart’s content. Our table had an excellent view of the open kitchens, which was brilliant because we love to watch the kitchen brigade as they prep and cook the orders.
While we tried to decide what we fancied… most of the menu to be honest… we snacked on Edamame Beans tossed in Soy and Sesame Oil and sipped on G&T’s.
So Much Choice
After consulting our lovely waiter, we decided to go all small plates, in order to try lots of different options. The first out of the kitchen were the two types of California Rolls that we had plumped for; Spicy Tuna with Avocado & Lotus Crisp and the Salmon, Cream Cheese, Chilli and Cucumber. Both freshly and expertly made and accompanied by pickled ginger and fresh wasabi, that was grated at our table.
The plates are all cooked to order, so they arrive as they are ready. The next wave consisted of a trio of dishes. Sweet, juicy Roasted Scallops with a very moreish Cauliflower Purée, Wakame (purple seaweed) Pickle and Thai Basil, luscious large chargrilled Garlic Spiced Prawns with Mango and Lime Salt and the most incredible Roasted Baby Aubergines with Caramel Miso and Katsuobushi, which is dried, fermented, shaved flakes of tuna. Amazing umami flavours.
These were closely followed by Duck Salad with Compressed Watermelon. I had to Google why one would compress a watermelon and apparently the process intensifies the flavour. Not sure it tasted any more watermelony than normal watermelon but the salad itself was beautifully refreshing and a nice interlude prior to the two meaty plates arriving.
Oh, my goodness. In my home life I am trying to eat a more plant-based diet but obviously when we are trying out restaurants and eateries, we like to sample a good range of dishes and the last two beefy choices were utterly fabulous. Meltingly unctuous Short Rib with an Onion Miso Sauce and from the Robarta grill, Seared Teriyaki Beef Rump with Sweet Soy and Spring Onion. Both meaty offerings were totally delicious.
The waitress offered us the dessert menu and we actually umm’d and ahh’d for a minute as to where we could manage a sweet treat. Of course we could. It’s very rare we eschew this course. I have to say I do love a pudding menu that isn’t stuffed full of chocolatey choices. Very annoying when the brown stuff isn’t your bag. I’m glad to say that Australasia only offers one such serving and so I had plenty to choose from. My dining companion wanted the Mango Souffle with Coconut Ice Cream and Passionfruit Sauce, which is obviously cooked to order, so gave us a little breathing space between the savoury and the sweet. I was the worth the wait. Perfectly risen and so light, you make a hole in the centre and pour the sauce in from a small, cute glass teapot. I admit, I had a bit of pudding envy but then I tasted my Kaffir Lime Cremè Brûleé with Pineapple Sorbet and all was right with the world. This is a dessert I could eat over and over again.
In fact, there wasn’t a single element of the whole meal that I wouldn’t happily order on another visit. Combine that with excellent service and gorgeous surrounds and it all adds up to a perfect evening.
On the way out we went via Australasia’s totally Instagrammable, pink and gold cocktail bar, Sunset by Australasia. We will have to come back soon to give that a whirl too.
Will We Return?
Yes, we absolutely will. I would say that Australasia is one of those restaurants that is perfect for special occasion dining, leisurely lunches and quick, light bites. A perfect all-rounder.
We were gifted our food and drink, but thoughts and opinions are entirely our own.