I’ve always thought the entrance to Australasia to be both imposing and secretive.

If you’ve not noticed it, it’s the glass triangle in front of Armani in Manchester’s Spinningfields. A glass portal to an underground catacomb where the elite of Manchester met to run the city and devour the blood of virgins in dark, satanic rituals. As it turns out, it is nothing of the sort. As you descend the stairs you are transported to a light and airy interior with a warm luminosity and greeted with an equally warm welcome.

I am here to meet Northern Soul Editor, Helen Nugent, for catch/nosh-up. Regular readers will know that this is usually the point where Helen fobs me off with the old ‘affairs of state’ excuse and the maitre d’ says “you don’t look like a Helen” and I have to get the Brunette to sub. Well, not this time. As I sup my G&T, Helen magically appears before me (I think I detected a small trickle of virgin blood peaking from the side of her mouth). We both agree that it’s been too long and that there’s nothing quite like a long lunch with a good friend.

Australasia is an Australian establishment incorporating the fusion flavours of Japan and Indonesia in a convivial and amicable atmosphere. There had been rumours of rough seas, but a relaunch and a revised menu seem to have steadied the good ship Australasia with nothing but plain sailing ahoy. We are met by Afi, a friendly and gracious host who looked after us all afternoon with knowledge and a smile. Afi is a Ghanaian name meaning wise and mature, and her advice and suggestions proved to be just that.

Helen opens with a cocktail of jasmine and gin to wash down her succulent sashimi of yellowfin tuna, scallops and Loch Duart salmon. I choose soft shell crab tempura with a tentsuyu dipping sauce and a bottle of Les Nuages rosé to accompany the rest of the meal. Our taste of the sea starters are delicious and plated with a stylish eye. The rosé is pale and as bone-dry as it should be.Australasia 2019

Amid a conversation that ranged from Fleet Street tales to Brexit follies, inevitably leading to Helen showing me swear words in shorthand, our mains showed up in good time. I surf and turfed with a sea bass fillet doused in mango slivers and pomegranate seeds, and a tender prime short rib with an onion miso sauce. A tasteful balance of land and sea. Helen selected a signature dish of Black Cod roasted in hoba leaf, of which it was a privilege to sample a morsel of moist fishy heaven. It was superb.

Australasia 2019To finish, we shared a mango soufflé with a passion fruit sauce and coconut ice cream and two hot sakes, plain for Helen and plum for me. A sweet end to a fine meal.

We emerged happy and full into a sunny Spring afternoon. Australasia was no longer imposing or secretive but a welcoming lesson that collaboration between cultures produces stunning culinary fusions of delectable quality. I was cheered that Brexit Day had been avoided and that somewhere, near Westminster, Nigel Farage was crying into a pint of water-weak beer.

By Robert Hamilton

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