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Down-Under Dining at Australasia

On my latest adventure to Manchester, I took the chance to visit Australasia, an astounding modern Australian restaurant that serves hybrid cuisine combining Pacific-Asian flavours underpinned by a European cooking tradition. As soon as you approach the restaurant, its distinctive nature becomes readily apparent. Situated in the Deansgate area of Manchester, at surface level, all you’ll see is a glass door and encasement that house the descending stairs to the restaurant proper. You see, when you come to Australasia, you literally dine down-under.

Let’s start with the drinks. I assure you, we didn’t drink them all at once. We’re responsible enough to not drink four cocktails at once. (Though still irresponsible enough to start drinking cocktails at 1pm – zero regrets).

Australasia Cocktails
Top-Left to Bottom Right: Tokyo Iced Tea, Smokey Old Fashioned, Lychee Lemonade, Asian Pear Crush.

You can see the collection of cocktails that accompanied our meal. Phone quality pictures don’t quite do them justice but, when the first drink comes with glow sticks (the Tokyo Iced Tea) you know you’re on the right track. The Smokey Old Fashioned literally comes out smoking. You can see the smoke welling up in the glass. When we poured it out the billowed over the table with a distinctive smoky smell (hence the name). The Lychee Lemonade and Asian Pear Crush were well presented, though not to the same extremes as their peers, and both cool and refreshing. The Asian Pear Crush was my personal favourite of the pack, both for its taste and its ingredients. Elderflower, Apple and Pear are three of my favourite fruits. For me, mixing them into one cocktail is a sure-fire success. If I could get away with drinking only Asian Pear Crushes forever, I would.

Next up, let’s talk about the food. We chose to get a number of smaller dishes so we could share a wider range of tastes. First off, I have to mention the wasabi. Before our dishes were brought to us, our server (Sonia – who was lovely) did the honours of grating us fresh wasabi on a shark skin board. Actual shark skin. If it wasn’t already clear how amazing a restaurant Australasia is, that point should hammer it home. The wasabi was grated with the skin of what was once an actual live shark.

Australasia Sushi and Mains
Top Image: Smoked Eel Nigiri, Dragon Rolls, Spider Rolls.
Bottom Image: Sliced Octopus with Yuzu Gel, Tempura Pork Dumplings, Collingwood Dinkies.

The food came out in two waves (the top image first, the bottom image second – convenient, right?). First was the sushi. While I’m not personally a fan of Spider Rolls, they were still presented perfectly and, as my fellow-diner confirms, they were delightful. The Dragon Rolls had a good kick to them thanks to the gamey taste of the duck meat, which goes down well when further accentuated with some wasabi-infused soy sauce. Having been recommended them by a co-worker, I was most looking forward to the Smoked Eel Nigiri; they did not disappoint. Your initial reaction might be something along the lines of “Eww! Eel? Gross!“, I can assure you that the meat itself is one of the most enjoyable pieces of seafood I’ve ever eaten. Succulent and flavourful without any unpleasant odour that you might find from other fish, it defies all negative expectations. If you do dine here, definitely try the Smoked Eel Nigiri.

We made no pauses for our second wave. As you can see, we ate two of the Collingwood Dinkies before we even remembered to take a picture (sorry – they were that good!). The tempura was wonderfully soft and I wish I’d been able to have more. Maybe next time. We chose the Sliced Octopus mostly for the novelty of it being octopus as neither of us had tried it before. Regrettably, it was the only dish on the day that didn’t amaze us. Octopus just doesn’t have that much flavour to it and what flavour there is happens to be very much a ‘sea salt’ sort of taste. Since it was sliced, there’s not much to say about the texture. In future, I’d give the octopus a miss, but that’s really the only negative I can say about any of the food. Everything else was astounding.

You would think, after eating and drinking all that, that we’d pass on dessert. You can of course presume, since I’m mentioning it, that we didn’t. To assuage that slight bit of guilt that we may have eaten too much, we opted to share our dessert:

Australasia's Buttermilk Pana Cotta
Above: Buttermilk Pana Cotta

The presentation on the Buttermilk Pana Cotta is adorable. The wooden box houses a base of buttermilk cream that’s topped with a chocolate crumble and an array of fruits, berries and meringue pieces (with a few petals thrown in for good measure). The whole image is that of a tiny garden and it’s a great shame that we had to tear it apart.

We left Australasia satiated and satisfied. We’d be very happy to come back, but it it is on the expensive side, so unless I start bleeding liquid platinum, it won’t be as regular as we might like. Still, if you’re ever in the Deansgate area of Manchester, it’s definitely something to try at least once.

You can check out the full menu and find more information at the Australasia website.

For now, I’ll be trying to figure out how to make my own Asian Pear Crushes.

Published inWords on Food

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