1 The Avenue, Spinningfields, Manchester (0161 831 0288).
A wise gentleman once said: “A restaurant is a fantasy – a kind of living fantasy in which diners are the most important members of the cast.” – and this is exactly how I hope to encapture every dining experience – there’s nothing wrong with having high standards when it comes to food.
So when I arrived at Australasia, after hearing rave reviews from friends and aquaintances, I tried to keep an open mind. In all honesty I was excited. With the entrance being just a triangle spire at the forefront of Spinningfields I almost had to do a double take to check that I had arrived at the actual venue. But I have to admit – I was intrigued with the mysterious entrance.
The stairs sloping downwards enabled me to gain a full birds-eye view of the white-washed bare-brick walled eatery. With a glass wall giving view to an open kitchen at the back of the swanky venue it gave an warm, exotic vibe. And the hotspot, famous for being the footballers’ first-choice, was filled with quirky interior touches which I found… intresting. Its first impressions reflected the glossy, high-end Manchester social scene and I instantly felt like I needed to behave. Nevertheless it fed my imagination and I wanted more.
After being offered a drink at the bar, a chatty hostess took our jackets and escorted us to our seats before leaving us in the hands of our own personal waiter for the evening. Very polite, friendly and orderly. So far so good.
The venue, which boasts of its fine Asian cuisine, offered a vast variety of both drinks, soft and alcoholic, as well as a selection of light-bites and main meals. Being a woman finicky in her tastes I naturally opted for a few carefully chosen small dishes along with a fruity watermelon cocktail with my own choice of alcoholic shot along with a jug of watermelon infused water – of course. I enjoyed the fact that my fussiness could be accomodated.
Our sharing dishes were brought out in a series of ‘waves’. First came my favourites – the tempura dishes. The prawn and asparagus and Squid with fresh lime dishes were everything I didn’t expect but everything I had wanted. Light and crisp I didn’t feel like I was gnawing on a ball full of batter which unfortunately you tend to uncover these days in most fine food outlets. Being a big fish fan I immediately approved and I couldn’t get enough. So what was next… BBQ lamb cutlets with soured cabbage, blackened cod roasted in hoba leaf and szechuan salt and pepper beef skewers. The cutlets, which I’m sure I detected held a hint of delicately marinated mint, were fine. And by fine I mean in the sense of the way my 16-year-old cousin would say “fine”. Not much to see here, it does the job, neeexxxttt. Grilled mackerel in banana leaves, although absolutely delicious, was difficult to locate hidden under and over a bed of jungle leaves and chillis. The side of spinach – I had to ask for it to be heated, otherwise it would be served cold – was merely tasteless. But what did I expect, it was only a vegetable. The skewers on the other hand – lush. And by lush I mean in the way my over-the-top, excitable, 16-year-old cousin would scream “lush”. They were utterly delicious, tender and perfectly cooked, all of a sudden my meal instantly upgraded.
While tucking into these small parcels of scrumptiousness my partner, who had started on the cod, suddenly exclaimed: “Wow. That is the best thing I have ever tasted in my entire life.” Having brought a dining partner, who I can only describe as the biggest food “snob” I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, say this – I knew it was no ordinary loin. Being one of the pricier selections on the menu (£22.50) I refused to see how a plain piece of fish could excite somebody so much. So naturally I dived in. And yes, I can most certainly confirm it is up there with my top cuisine tips of all time. It literally melted in my mouth. Okay so I fully admit – I was turning into a big gushing fan of this food.
After finishing our initial dishes I was quite contently full. Despite them not actively being huge, they were still enough for my ‘pick at everything’ appetite, but I still wanted more, I couldn’t get enough. So we ordered more. This time I stuck to an altered version of my favourites, tempura soft shell crab and courgette flowers chilli seasoned and also opted for the seared teriyaki beef with sweet soy and spring onion. This is a seriously stunning dish and once again the high standards were maintained with moist slices of quality meat (although slightly on the rare side for my palette but my partner adored the beef) and the teriyaki drizzled sauce was ultimately gorgeous and really added the zing to the palate.
As for the dessert menu it consists of carefully chosen and daily changing artisan ice-creams and sorbets. But the clear winner here for cocoa-loving me was the chocolate soufflé with raspberry sorbet and chocolate sauce. It came with a slightly lengthy waiting time of 20 minutes but I was happy enough to wait while letting my dinner digest and sipping on my fruity concontion. And well it was most definitely worth the wait. This was as light and round and bouncy as a helium-filled birthday balloon. It came with a glass teapot oozing with warm chocolate sauce to be poured inside so that the whole thing wobbled and shook. A creamy scoop of ice cream finished the dish. And what a way to round off the meal – it was absolutely devine.
After dinner we were escorted to Australasia’s giddy, younger sister venue, Grand Pacific, located just at the top of the restaurant. With seating both indoor and outdoor, it was the ideal spot to catch the last of the summer’s rare sprinkling of Manchester sun.
It was a perfect high to end on. Yes the experience may be deemed pretentious, over-the-top and carefully contrived, but so what… I felt like the most valued customer in the joint. And for me sir, that’s the icing on the pretty little cake.
By Lucy Hilton