Last night I took my girlfriend out for a right posh slap-up in Manchester’s newest fine-dining establishment, Australasia. The staff weren’t wearing corked hats, the walls weren’t adorned with portraits of Shane Warne and there wasn’t a kangaroo in site – what’s going on? Now, I’m no expert on interior design, however my girlfriend is and she was very complimentary, waxing lyrical about the lighting and the seat covers in women’s toilets (I’ll have to take her word on that last one), what I can say is that my buttocks appreciated the comfy seating.
Australasia of course doesn’t just consist of that massive Island inhabited by convicts and the offspring of convicts, the area is a hot bed for exciting and innovative cuisine driven by influences from South East Asia and Polynesia, as well as a contemporary Australian influence.
Our Sommelier was Australian – I was hoping that Australasia didn’t employ a similar recruitment policy to that of Walkabout (thankfully they don’t) – and jotted down our wine order with a good old fashioned pen and paper, before producing an iPad from his pouch, waving it around a bit and encouraging us to finger through an electronic version of the wine list, which felt completely unnecessary. The benefit of not having to reprint a paper menu every time a wine is added or removed is a positive, but surely the real leap forward would have been to allow diners to order drinks directly from the Pad, and expand it to cover the full range of drinks offered, non of this seemed to matter to the suit in the next booth who was in danger of wetting himself with excitement.
I also think the floor policy is slightly awry, each table has a separate food and drink waiter assigned to it, which leads to a frustrating scenario whereby as one of your courses is being set down or empty plates are removed and you request a top up of your glasses, the waiter must rush off to locate your designated drinks specialist who can then take your order. This may be partly to blame for the slow service, the limited knowledge of the service staff certainly didn’t suggest that they had specialised in any particular discipline of service.
As I said, this place is brand-spanking new and most of the floor staff are still receiving training, so I don’t want to be overly critical on service, but the waiting staff would have a much easier time of it if management reviewed a few of their methods
Thankfully the kitchen hasn’t required anytime for bedding in and is on top of its game from the get-go. Top and tail your meal with the Oysters and Mango soufflé and you can’t go far wrong. The soufflé in particular was as soft as a marshmallow wrapped in Andrex with a Mango ‘soup’ presented in a miniature glass tea-pot providing a fruity sweetness. The food menu has an astonishing variety with sushi, tempura, soups, steaks and salads on offer but the predominance of seafood as the main showcase is a reminder of the restaurant’s main influences. Barramundi is a very popular eating fish in Australia and it’s surely only a matter of time before we catch on over here judging by the wonderfully meaty white flesh that I tasted.
The foods great, the wine list is extensive and the décor is superb, so is this the fine dining experience that Manchester has been crying out for? Well, perhaps, despite all the positives I just felt something was slightly missing, maybe it’s the air of self-confidence of a place that knows it’s great and doesn’t have to try too hard. Australasia felt like the kid who moves to a new school half way through the year and tries too hard to convince everyone that his previous classmates thought he was cool. If it settles down, focuses on attention to detail and would just be itself then the slight air of desperation would evaporate and it could take its place at the head table.