AUSTRALASIA was always a loving nod to creator Tim Bacon’s Aussie roots, where Pacific Rim cuisine and fruity New World wine had gradually ousted the old Commonwealth pie and tinny culture. Welcome to the Republic of Fusion.
Back in 2011 the underground restaurant’s statement glass pyramid entrance caused as much of a stir as the food, which set the template for varying takes since on Asian-influenced offerings across the city – stand up Tattu and Cottonopolis, pick of the rival fusion brethren.
So seven years on, Tim Bacon sadly missed, and a new menu to explore in what he once called his favourite venue in the Living Ventures empire.
More of the same really but how does this menu stand up against the opposition? Effortlessly, brilliantly. While I’ve never seen the point of the confused menu at Grand Pacific (in what was Room), final project of the Bacon era, Australasia in contrast may well have even upped its game.
Start, as we did, with a mixed selection of tempura and robata at £14 a head, which showcases a range of dishes that rock in individually at between £7 and £9 a go.
Szechuan beef fillet skewers and Cashew and pineapple chicken skewers came sizzling from the grill, the former imbued with smoke and spice, the latter sticky but with a chilli kick that took us out of the sweet ’n sour zone; the batter coating the likes of pork, ginger and shitake mushroom tempura and prawn and squid morsels was as delicate as a Hokusai print.
Check out the great Japanese artist’s The Dream Of The Fisherman’s Wife, a hugely erotic image of an octopus seducing a woman. Our extra tempura order of tender octopus (£8) didn’t generate quite as much pleasure but is a highly recommendable addition to the menu.
So too, only more so, are two further fish dishes, one fleshily gorgeous on the plate, the other slightly sinister (like Hokusai’s lusty cephalod).
A trio of the best scallops I’ve had in months piquantly accompanied by pickled apple, apple and ginger puree, seaweed and wasabi (£13.50) is a perfect example of Australasia at its best, showing respect for the raw material and imaginatively enhancing.
Its fishy rival, the torched mackerel (£10) gets a more strident treatment, lined up against fish kimchi fennel (a fave of ours), burnt dill and a smoky katsuobushi (bonito flake) mayonnaise and comes through, again enhanced.
All this fish determined our choice of wine. From a list, still displayed at table on an iPad (so 2011) and at its best in the New World, we wen for a tropical, aromatic white, Greywacke ‘Wild Ferment’ Sauvignon Blanc (£55) from New Zealand. Exotic and yet classically balanced as ever, it was a perfect fit.
Even with another new dish that didn’t quite live up to the rest. Wasabi and watercress puree didn’t, to my mind, marry well with our slices of pink duck breast even if the grilled carrot, roasted hazelnuts and dukkah crumb did (£16 big plate).
Our sides were (relatively) old stagers on the menu – slightly salty satay spinach (£5.75) and an uncompromising wakame and seaweed salad (£4.50), which we left to eat with the duck, when it was really a pal for that torched mackerel.
There are four new desserts available; we tried three. A candied ginger cheesecake with popcorn (£7.50) was excessively sweet, peanut butter cloying, but a Chocolate souffle with raspberry sorbet and chocolate sauce (£8.50) was classically good and the caramelised white chocolate and almond cake with passionfruit ice cream (£9) was an even greater triumph, the chocolate pour at table pure theatre.
You can eat more conventionally than this at Australasia. Birthday celebrators at the next table were wolfing steak and chips and Loch Duart salmon. But why come to the Republic of Fusion and vote for England?
Australasia, 1 The Avenue, Spinningfields, M3 3AE. 0161 831 0288.