Time for another review. If you have read my reviews in the past you will be aware that I can normally find fault with most things, but in the case of Australasia I am hard pressed.
It opened in 2011 and there was much talk about it and I couldn’t move an inch around Manchester without someone asking me whether I’d been. I shall admit that I was worried that it would be too trendy and too up-itself for my liking, but – I quickly discovered – that it’s not. In fact, it’s so amazing I must have eaten there fifteen or sixteen times since September last year. I take clients, friends and family and not one person has said anything negative about it… with the exception of my friends last night who said they only wished it wasn’t in Manchester but in their own city. I even seem to have got ‘a table’ – for 50% of my trips to Australasia I seem to have been seated at exactly the same table.
You enter into the restaurant, just off Deansgate, descending underground through a Louvre-esque structure jutting out in front of the Armani shop. The welcome received by the front of house team is professionally friendly and not too overwhelming or aloof.
Once seated at your table – last night I had different table, which did throw me a bit – one of the waiting staff (who are all nauseatingly attractive) comes over and offers to ‘explain the menu’ to you. Now, I do normally loathe these ‘concept’ restaurants where the staff assume you are so thick you can’t work it out for yourself – but in Australasia’s case I can forgive them this gimmick, and they don’t patronize you.
Being a creature of habit, I have the same thing every time I go. To begin, Szechuan salt and pepper beef skewers with sweet soy and crispy shallots, followed by Corn-fed chicken with asparagus, mushrooms and foie gras foam. The accompanying Sweet potato and rosemary mash is a must and I have tried to replicate it many times at Hanson Towers, to some success but nothing compares to the real thing.
There always seems to be ‘someone’ at the restaurant – mostly people from the footballing community (although don’t let that put you off). I have to have them pointed out to me as I could trip over them and still not realise who they were. Indeed, I once was seated on a banquette at Australasia next to a VERY high profile footballer and didn’t clock until the puddings.
Ah, yes – pudding. Now here is where I like to shake it up a bit. I fluctuate each time between Chocolate pavé with sour cherry jelly, griottine cherries and miso ice cream and Espresso fondant and vanilla crème fraiche with walnut ice cream.
I don’t want this review to sound too gushing so I will just nit-pick a bit for sake of balance. The cleanliness of the lavatories is not quite right. They are not dirty (all things considered) but the role of an attendant could be used effectively to spruce them up a bit during service. Things I noticed from last night on my trip to the loo: wet tissue behind the sink, one of the loo roll holders was broken, an unexplained lake of water beneath the Dyson Air Blade dryer. Minor things, but having someone go in every fifteen minutes and spruce the place up may just help.
W.C.’s aside, Australasia gets everything right. The atmosphere is happy, vibrant and the music is present but not so overpowering you have to project your voice just to speak to the person sitting next to you. The décor is light and airy, with an excellent use of Lloyd Loom garden furniture – Hyacinth Bucket once hosted an ‘Outdoors Indoors Luxury Barbecue with Finger Buffet’. Perhaps Living Ventures, who own the restaurant, copied Mrs Bucket’s idea for this first-rate restaurant.
I really cannot say enough good things about Australasia. If I were to run a city-centre restaurant, this is exactly the sort of place it would be.