There are lots of different ways to present restaurant menus. In my time, I’ve seen simple slips of paper, red leather binders, cards and laminates (not always a good idea – once, on a date, my companion set fire to the plastic menu causing noxious fumes to envelop our table). But I’ve never, ever been handed a personal iPad for the duration of the meal.
Australasia isn’t your run of the mill eaterie. You enter through a miniature version of the iconic glass Louve Pyramid and descend into a room which gives the impression of being filled with light. Australasia is underground but you’d never know. A clever blend of pale vintage style chic decor and squashy white sofa seats combine to make this subterranean restaurant one of the brightest places I’ve ever eaten in. If I had to sum it up, I’d say “sun-bleached”.
Australasia (part of the ever-expanding Living Ventures empire) describes itself thus: ‘Modern Australian cuisine combines Pacific Rim flavours underpinned by European cooking tradition, a blend of Indonesian, Southeast Asian influences and Australia’s strong ties with Japan also help determine the taste and style”. It’s a bit of mouthful. But would its food live up to the (not inconsiderable) hype?
Yes, yes and thrice yes. Good gawd, this was one of the best Asian fusion meals I’ve ever had. Me and me dining companion decided to order a variety of the smaller dishes – all the better to share and experiment. It was a good move. We scoffed ourselves silly. I can still taste the black cod as it melted in my mouth, my grinding molars rendered redundant. The sashimi was equally heavenly, as were the szechuan salt and pepper beef skewers.
Even the desserts were top notch. I say ‘even’ because a great savoury offering can often mean that the afters are disappointing. Not so at Australasia. The simple dessert titles belied a complexity that had to be tasted to be believed. I’ll never look at rhubarb crumble in the same way, nor be able to buy a bounty bar after sampling the chocolate and coconut. The gingerbread ice cream defies description.
And there were a few nice touches throughout the meal. Instead of serving a lurid green wasabi, the waiter grated it freshly on an implement made of shark skin. I never thought I’d find myself adding a shark skin wasabi grater to my Amazon wish list.
Australasia isn’t cheap, not by a long way. But it’s a treat and a half. Unmissable.
Review by Helen Nugent
Where: Spinningfields, Manchester
More info: http://australasia.uk.com/