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Australasia Reviewed

Jonathan Schofield has a great time and good food in a city essential

Written by . Published on January 31st 2012.


Australasia Reviewed

WHEN Australasia was about to open last year Confidential was lucky to get an exclusive preview of the quality on offer. The food was exceptional. 

That was in May. In June when Gordo returned to review and score the restaurant, the high standards had been maintained.

Then the chef, Paul Greening, who had largely dreamt up and developed the menu abruptly left. Some of the detailing in the food disappeared – cute little edible flowers in the salad for example.

We thought we might have been hasty in our judgement.

Given the theatre of the place, the approach of the staff, the craft of the food, Australasia will make a special occasion feel special.  

I was back last week to dine for the first time in six months. No worries.

The venue was as smooth looking as ever, the service as sharp and friendly, the food as lovely and the buzz and atmosphere as entertaining and engaging. It was a lush, luxurious and impressive experience. 

The menu had been tweaked since the last time I was in but I still went for the tempura soft shell crab (£12.50). This came with ‘courgette flowers' and was 'chilli seasoned’. It was superb, all crunch, snap, soft succulent flesh, and that strange sense of well-being over how bounteous and giving is Mother Nature when allied with the alchemy of cooking. 

Soft shell crab and prawnsSoft shell crab and prawns

My dining partner started with prawns, red chilli and lime salt (£8.50). Again an exquisite preparation with the fatness of the prawns given punch by the red chilli, and lifted with the lime. They looked good, as usual - presentation being an Australasia hallmark.

Edamame - snaffled 'em all by the endEdamame beansMore crunch was provided by a big bowl of edamame beans. These had been fried with chilli, garlic and ginger (£4), all of which came through as a palpable but subtle presence. Moreish things edamame beans, it took me a while but I’d done 'em all by the end of the meal. 

Speaking of lime we’d started off drinks-wise with the infused lemon and lime (£2.95) before moving on to wine with a punchy Rioja. These infused waters are the ultimate in refreshing and palate cleansing drinks. I do a version at home, which probably costs about 27p, but then I don’t have the theatre of Australasia in my kitchen. Not during weekdays anyway. 

The ocean trout fillet with pancetta, caramelised onion and Madeira shallots (£18.50 - our main picture at the top of the page) was simply beautiful. The fish was perfect - sonnets could be written to celebrate it. Then there was pancetta and 'shrooms to add complementary contrast and a gooey edge of shallots enriched by Madeira. Not sure so much foamy yoghurt veloute foam was needed on top of the fish although it added a gentle nuance and colour to the flavour. Doing fish properly can be a difficult juggling act but this dish didn't drop a ball - so to speak. 

The sea became the unplanned theme for the evening. My dining partner had the roasted barramundi and mitsuba toast (mitsuba is a Japanese herb) with scallops, clams and vegetable noodles (£19.50). Bunching the ingredients up on a fork and taking a bite released an explosion of proper savoury variety, rich fun for the food lover.

Barrimuni and Barry MitsubaBarrimuni and Barry Mitsuba

Sweet potato and rosemary mash (£4) was a fine accompaniment to the mains. If I'd been given a spoon, I would have gobbled it up like one of grandma's trad trifles.

Instead we had the passion fruit marshmallow, roast pineapple parcels and pineapple sorbet for £7. I should have gone for my favourite mango souffle instead. Or my gran's trifle.

Busy puddingBusy puddingThe passion fruit thingy was more OTT than the conversation-stopping bodice on a young lady a few booths down. The sweet and tart balance (I'm talking about the dessert not the bodice here) had been spoilt by over-complicating the issue. 

It gets expensive at Australasia. The sides, the infused waters, the bits and bobs here and there all add up. When combined with mains, starters and pudds this is top-Manchester-whack.

Doing it properly with wine for two means you’ll be more than a £100 lighter on leaving the restaurant.

Hardly a surprise given the quality and style of the restaurant but for most people this puts the meal into the special occasion category. In a way that's just as it should be and every city needs places like Australasia, but it means the restaurant attracts all manner of snobbery, both inverted and not.

Asked by a man - let's call him Tosh - the following Saturday about my favourite restaurants in the city, he stated that he disliked Australasia because it was "full of WAGS".

There's a bit of that, of course, but mostly the clientele are all ages, probably comfortably-off people, with a desire to try new food. At the same time they appreciate a lively atmosphere. It's a sassy place. Latin guests love it. 

I asked absolute Tosh if he'd ever been in Australasia.

"No," he said, "but I know the type of place."

Typical.

His type of place turned out to be the newly opened Bakerie in the Northern Quarter and others like it. Wholesome, unpretentious. I like Bakerie too (click here), I like all sorts of places. It's a joy Manchester has such variety.

Given the theatre of the place, the approach of the staff, the craft of the food, Australasia makes a special occasion feel special. It's great to have it in the city. 

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL AND PAID FOR BY THE MAGAZINE. £1000 to the reader who can prove otherwise, and dismissal for the staff member who wrote a review scored out of twenty on a freebie from the restaurant.

Australasia
1 The Avenue
Spinningfields, M3 3AE 

Rating: 17.5/20
Food: 8.5/10
Service: 4.5/5
Ambience: 4.5/5

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away.


Australasia1

Australasia 004

 Australasia 012



                                       

Australasia 013

 

Australasia 007

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47 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

ConradJanuary 31st 2012.

Great food and yes a lovely atmosphere

F TuckerJanuary 31st 2012.

Attention to detail in the food is usually of the highest standard. Very good indeed. Sometimes the music policy can impinge on the dining experience.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Hero
heskethJanuary 31st 2012.

i agree big time about the 'music' it's awful

AnonymousJanuary 31st 2012.

Never mind the food -where's the picture of the bird on the big wheel?

RayJanuary 31st 2012.

What's the service like? The wine list (quality, price, breadth)? The food looks great, but I'm only hearing half the picture.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 31st 2012.

It says the service is sharp and friendly within the review.

RayJanuary 31st 2012.

I was looking for a little bit more detail than that, Anon, but luckily I can read the detailed comments further down this page. Still little to no info on the wine list though, and I would be surprised if one could dine here for £50/head including drinks. I'd reckon £75/head easily.

TopchefJanuary 31st 2012.

On my second visit, I did not feel either the service or the food was as good as my previous visit. It will be a while before I return.

EllieJanuary 31st 2012.

This place is wonderful - for all types, all ages and all professions or none! The food is incredible, the staff are incredible and the venue is incredible! I love it and IT IS SPECIAL!
Elaine M Brignall

3 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 31st 2012.

All ages? Hardly. It's not for kids. Neither is it likely to appeal to the currently unemployed I'd say.

Calum McGJanuary 31st 2012.

Or miserable people.

AnonymousJanuary 31st 2012.

Surely no restaurant should appeal to the currently unemployed?

Diablos RojosJanuary 31st 2012.

I feel hungry just looking at those pictures... It is on the expensive side but you get what you pay for here... An absolute explosion of the senses.

1 Response: Reply To This...
M-Dog ManchesterFebruary 6th 2012.

Hey you should go when it's 20% off... find me on Facebook... sign-up to their White Card, worth it for the discount. Grrrrrrr.

Louise DohertyJanuary 31st 2012.

when we went before xmas the service was shocking! i will not be going in there again.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 31st 2012.

Agreed, I went for my anniversary and it was average. The food too, nothing exceptional and massively overpriced. If I'm paying for the 'theatre' to justify the 1000% mark-up (as the author suggests on the infused waters) then I'd have to say the theatre was also disappointing. No urge to return any time soon.

Mr.HydeJanuary 31st 2012.

faired better than under Jay Rayners review

www.guardian.co.uk/…/jay-rayner-australasia-manchester-restaurant…

Robert KnightJanuary 31st 2012.

yeah, but Jay Rayner can be a right miserable bastard sometimes. I think Jonathan's review pretty much sums up my experience of the place, based on 2 visits. Service can occasionally be lacking, especially prior to being seated, but this place offers something new and better in Manchester, albeit for a special occasion for most of us.

And the wine-list is excellent.

Jenny CollinsJanuary 31st 2012.

Things that occurred on my 3rd and final visit to Australasia (Emperors New clothes): Patronising staff quote ' I know you'll find the menu overwhelming, so ask me anything difficult'. Warm white wine (asked 3 times for ice for the bucket). Cold starters (informed that they were meant to be luke warm). Pork belly that had I persevered I would still be chewing it now. Very slow service resulting in more wine bought (I was entertaining US colleagues) and then being asked to leave the table as it had been resold! Squashed into a bar booth for remainder of said wine. Asked for the bill twice, nothing. Walked to front desk to ask, nothing. Finally I approached the hostess who sighed rolled her eyes and apruptly told me to sit down...
When we finally got the bill we were asked how was 'it' we told the truth and were give the explanation...'Well we're busy!'

suzyblewJanuary 31st 2012.

Agree hostessing is appalling. Service much better once seated. However if a meal takes longer than 2 hours thanks to their poor service then I would refuse to move! I think it does suffer from the San Carlo effect of levels of service depend on who the customer is.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 31st 2012.

Agreed. The nicer and friendlier the customer, the better the service!

Hero
heskethJanuary 31st 2012.

being a veggie, i find there is plenty to choose from the menu which makes a change. I am therefore quite happy to eat there. The only problem is noise which passes for music and i do use the term music very loosely. It's the equivalent of musak and it's just what someone somewhere counts as 'cool bar music'. For me and others with whom i have dined, it ruins the whole ambience of the place. Shame.

TopchefJanuary 31st 2012.

It’s not all that unfortunately, but then no where in town is that great? Anyone can suggest anywhere. I have eaten in a lot of Manchester eateries, disappointing!

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 31st 2012.

You are right. I live in town but you can pay the same at the best restaurants in London than you do up here and the service and quality doesn't compare.

Why are Manchester restaurants so expensive for what you get? Try a decent London restaurant and you will know what I mean.

Rather than didning out in town if we want good food we get the train to London and go to Scott's, Marcus Wareing, Tamarind, Nobu etc. Even Bibenedum is back on form and is cheaper than up here.

It's a shame but we need somethinng diferent to the formula Italian pizza/pasta joints and the brasseries.

Still I will be dining at Rockpool in Sydney next week as well as some other top places over there. Tallyho!

M-Dog ManchesterFebruary 6th 2012.

I only eat on deals... I can work my way round the city and eat for less every day or night of the week... and experience loads of places without paying through the wet, shiny nose. I would however like somewhere new, different, unexpected... yelp!

Fake DJJanuary 31st 2012.

I love it how I can just press buttons and do nothing special really whist playing prelisted tracks from my laptop.

You would have thought the 'people of Manchester' have experience in exposing posers...

...which leads to the conclusion that nobody from Manchester actually goes there!

HarryJanuary 31st 2012.

Dear Topchef and Fake DJ, listen, you're talking rubbish there. I would say the new Livebait menu, 63 Degrees, Cicchetti, Aubaine, Rose Garden and Australasia as places opening in the last fifteen or so months in this economic climate is fine by me. Most other UK cities would die for that. Too much whinging here.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
the Whalley RangerFebruary 1st 2012.

The author has highlighted the dilemma of the place - pseudo dj posing does not help.

I am a music lover. I do not tolerate posing fake djs. Do proper work or get rid I say. Have no issues with the food.

If you want to read praise only, go pick up a Metro.

TopchefFebruary 1st 2012.

Hi Harry, I beg to differ.
I have eaten at most of the places you have mentioned, not great! Livebait is the poorest of the batch, I have dined their 4 times and it is rubbish, but thats my opinion and I have paid good money to have it!

HarryJanuary 31st 2012.

I think Australasia by the way is great.

AnonymousJanuary 31st 2012.

I like Australasia but wilst the bar area is about 10& of the floorspace it in fact dominates the restaurant.

Even if you sit by the kitchen on a Saturday even early doors you can't hear the rest of the table s[eak because the music is so loud. Is it Panacea or is it a restaurant with a bar? It needs to decide.

Price wise the fish is the same as Scott's of Mayfair and J Sheekey, two of the best places in London and whilst the food is pretty good at Australasia it doesn't compare so why does it cost as much as Scott's.

1 Response: Reply To This...
CobbydalerJanuary 31st 2012.

In Room, you can't hear the music for the loud drunken conversation in the bar. I though it was just pre-Christmas revelry when we went in December, but it was the same at 18:30 last Friday night.

Elaine CashinJanuary 31st 2012.

Don't go there until you apply online for their White card allowing you 20pc off food when booked online and 10pc not online. I don't know whether they have withdrawn the offer, but there's no expiry date on my card. The salt and pepper kebabs are to die for.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Elaine CashinJanuary 31st 2012.

Yes just checked. White Card still available - 20pc off food Sun to Thurs 10pc Fri and Sat lunch. Still pricey with the discount but worth a visit

M-Dog ManchesterFebruary 6th 2012.

Hey Elaine, I just wrote the same thing to Christine below before I read your post. Yes the salt and pepper chicken skewers rock! Mmmm-dog. We usually hit Australasia for sushi and share a few things, like the skewers and the edamame beans. Grrrreat stuff! Find me on Facebook! :)

polecatFebruary 1st 2012.

Following J. S's review I need to try this place again because on my first visit, a big birthday, it was most dissapointing experience from start to finish, even the red wine was served too warm, and the service was lacking polish, knowledge, experience and customer awarness...
Training, training. training!

1 Response: Reply To This...
RayFebruary 1st 2012.

This red wine too warm thing does not only apply to Australiasia - most restaurants do the same, and it's down to the myth that red wine should be served at room temperature. That term was coined when there was no central heating etc. 18C is about right which is way less than a warm restaurant.

Paul CarterFebruary 1st 2012.

Went once, very Pacific Rim, very 1990s, ordered a rib eye steak, was told by the waiter the chef likes to cook it well done, so I ordered something else. very underwhelmed, won't be going back. Abode and Sole much better and not as pretentious.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousFebruary 2nd 2012.

Paul, what's wrong with pretentious?

RayFebruary 2nd 2012.

I doubt the chef likes Ribeye well done. I've never met a chef who likes doing ANY steak well done. Certainly ribeye shouldn't be totally rare as the marbled fat doesn't render properly, but med rare does the trick

Jennifer JamesFebruary 1st 2012.

I've been to Australasia on a number of occasions now. I've never eaten in the restaurant, only at the bar, but the food even for a "bar snack" is exceptional.
I love the fact you can walk past the kitchens and see how immaculate it is, and see all the chef's creating.
A couple of the cocktails are something else too.
Overall, a nice treat if you want a bit of friendly top of the range service. At least that is my opinion.

Christine KilbyFebruary 2nd 2012.

There's clearly a big, full-on, push for gastronomic excellence in Manchester at present. Trouble is staff need training and I have this awful feeling that there's a bit of busking going on - good first experience then it can't be prolonged - do they ship in great staff for the launch? I have enjoyed several new eating places over the last 12 months but on return have often found them sadly lacking. I have yet to try Australasia purely for reasons of inertia but wonder if it will really be worth the effort? Nothing can be worse than the choices available in the late 80s in the city centre so good luck to them all!

1 Response: Reply To This...
M-Dog ManchesterFebruary 6th 2012.

Hey Christine! I know what you mean and completely agree. I find that Australasia isn't as good as when it first opened, but they were full on with staff training and introductory discounts while they got things spot on, but it is still very good. If that makes sense. The dishes are a feast for the eyes as well as the belly, and the surroundings are lush. Sushi? Yes please. You should go, sign up for their 'White Card' and receive 20% off food when booking online. Except Fridays and Saturdays of course! You'll find a quick link at my little home: http://www.mdog.me. Get your gob round a salt and pepper chicken skewer and let me know what you think! Grrrrrrrrr.

Ryan O'hanlonFebruary 2nd 2012.

Is that bubble bath suds on top of the fish?

Ryan O'hanlonFebruary 2nd 2012.

or 'goz', you know, frothy spit?

M-Dog ManchesterFebruary 6th 2012.

I really like Australasia, food, cocktails, service, surroundings. It isn't as good as when it first opened, but they were full on with staff training and introductory discounts while they got things spot on, but it is still VERY GOOD and maybe I'm used to it a little more. The dishes are a feast for the eyes as well as the belly, and the surroundings are lush. Sushi? Yes please. Then a load of small plates to share, winner! Sign-up for their 'White Card' and receive 20% off food when booking online. Except Friday and Saturday evenings of course! You'll find a quick link at my little home http://www.mdog.me. Get your gob round a salt and pepper chicken skewer and let me know what you think! Grrrrrrrrr.

DavidJune 9th 2012.

Food is lovely but the bar can get a little rowdy at weekends.

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