Stepping through Australasia’s glass-housed staircase entrance on Deansgate takes you down in to a venue offering fine dining experiences with a Pacific twist. The laidback Balearic soundtrack and big cushioned seating might be reminiscent of a carefree South East Asian beach bar, but the food and drink is worth getting worked up about, and with a number of new additions to an already alluring menu, I intended to do just that.
There are two routes on offer with the food in Australasia, head for the standard three courses or go off piste and pick from the starters, tapas style. With this in mind the menu can seem at first a little daunting but once decided on the small plates, and after a few recommendations, we dive in.
Sushi is a favourite of mine but something I’ve never tried before is fresh wasabi. The green Japanese root, similar to horseradish, is grated by our waiter on a shark skin backed wooden paddle and we are assured that the nasal jolt of preserved wasabi is not as prominent in the fresh stuff. Well it got my eyes watering but that’s how I like it and the texture definitely added something. We ate the mixed nigiri which was delicious, a selection of raw fish, prawn, smoked eel and steak. The asian flavours were matched perfectly with cocktails, including a beautifully fragrant ‘Five spice dacquiri’ garnished with star anise and the ‘Love you long time’ a Siamese take on a mojito with thai basil.
Up next was a Japanese curried korokke, a kind of long thin spicy potato croquette, reminiscent of the breadcrumbed centrepiece of a katsu curry. Soft shell crab comes sliced in two, legs splayed upwards and accompanied by compressed cucumber slices and puffed rice balls, which are a bit like savoury rice krispie cakes. The crab itself is has no shell but is instead surrounded by a light tempura-style crispy batter and really is quite delicious. A salad of tataki tuna and iberico ham similarly sets the pulse racing. The tuna is seared ever so slightly, marinated and then served alongside exquisitely cured Spanish meat on a plate of east meets west.
Charcoal-coated peanuts are dotted amongst the star anise duck salad, a light and fiery bowl of bold flavours and rich meaty pieces that definitely hits the spot. Speaking of which the beef skewers certainly don’t disappoint. Big chunks of juicy, pink-in-the-middle steak is seasoned with a Szechaun salt and pepper mix. We are also assured that Australasia do the best chips in Manchester and a portion certainly go down quickly. If some more research is required there I’d be happy to oblige...
Desserts arrive in the form of a ginger and green tea cheesecake, a upright wheel with sweet crisp sides and a creamy centre. It’s got interesting flavours but I prefer the chocolate torte decorated with a tangy blood orange sauce and a ball of coconut sorbet. The contrasting combination works well.
It’s far from experimental but the food contained a few firsts for me with the fresh wasabi and charcoal peanuts. These little touches add the sparkle to a menu already bristling with well thought out dishes and its all backed up by the sort of inspired cocktails and extensive drinks list you’d expect from one of Manchester’s more popular weekend spots.
Heading away from our slice of Antipodean culinary adventure and emerging back up to ground level I’m left hoping it won’t be long before I’m off down under on Deansgate again.