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I went to Australasia with my friend for the first time 2 weeks ago. We booked in for 18:30 which would usually be quite early but we were already in Manchester during the day so this suited us.
The restaurant is officially part of the Spinningfields area which is a group of restaurants and bars just off Deansgate in Manchester City Centre. However Australasia is placed away from the main Spinningfields square and is actually just off Deansgate Road at the very start of Spinningfields. The central location means there is no private car park for Australasia guests so you would need to park your car in one of the many car parks in Manchester or use public transport/taxi.
We had actually wanted to go to Australasia some months before but when we tried to book (which was 2 weeks prior to the day we wanted) we were told the restaurant was already fully booked and that there is generally an 8 week wait on Saturday dining! This was quite a shock but made us more curious about this popular restaurant, so we made the reservation for September 2 months in advance. So my advice would be to book early for weekends.
This is one of the more unusual restaurants I have been in as it is actually underground. The entrance is a glass pyramid coming from the ground which is actually quite discrete and you could be forgiven for not noticing it at all, or at least not realising it's a restaurant. You'd think once your down there it would be quite a dark environment but its actually quite the opposite, and has a warm glow throughout and pale furnishings which bring a light airy feel to the place.
All the walls and ceiling are made from wood giving the whole place a beach hut feel. It is the best restaurant interior I've ever seen, it looked posh but without looking too formal and definitely had a holiday like feel about it. Going down to the restaurant was like stepping into another country and was completely unexpected.
The restaurant seating takes up about ¾ of the space with the bar at the front where you first walk in. At the back end of the restaurant there is a large kitchen which is enclosed by glass so you can see inside. The tables are very well laid out with the larger group tables in the middle and the tables for 2-4 on the walls. This meant there would never be a situation where a table for 2 is trapped between large noisy groups. The table we were given was a booth style table with two large bench style seats with huge cushions to make it extra comfortable. It was a bit like sitting on a posh sofa. It felt very private and the layout meant you aren't placed directly next to other tables for 2 which can be really awkward.
The toilets are located at the back of the restaurant and are easy to find. As expected they were very clean and modern and matched the rest of the building perfectly. The toilets are large with several cubicles and hand basins so they didn't seem busy and are unlikely to ever be full.
When we first arrived we waited in the bar area for a few minutes. It is a bar in its own right therefore none-dining guests also come here just for drinks. Compared to actual bars its quite small, but compared to restaurant bars it's a decent size with a long stretch of bar and various seating areas ranging from cosy corners to elevated tables with bar stools. There is a DJ in the bar area with his own dedicated area including a huge touchscreen computer (by huge I mean huge, like 1.5m²) from which he controls all the music in the restaurant. Because the bar and restaurant are merged into one room this means the diners have the same music, which in my opinion is a little bit loud and upbeat for dining. To be fair the DJ did only play mellow house music but I still found it quite odd to listen to while eating and at times found it a bit loud when having a conversation. Yet it did suit the bar area perfectly, but I think the restaurant need to focus more on the diners experience as this is primarily a restaurant.
There is a whole host of drinks on offer at the restaurant. We decided we would try one of the wines and when we enquired about these we were given an ipad which is set up to display the wines and allows you to search by different criteria. We had already decided we wanted Rose wine so chose our favourite and it came 5 minutes later with a bottle cooler and was poured out for us. The waiter then placed the cooler on a surface between the tables and regularly came to top up our glasses.
After the meal we also tried a cocktail. There was a drinks menu already on the table with the cocktails and there was a choice of about 30 cocktails which were all quite unique and not ones I'd heard of before. I got the feeling they were names and mixes created by Australasia. This is a good thing, but the only problem was a lot of them didn't have any explanation of what they were...just names like "Glass of Spice" and "Apple Crush", it would have been better if the menu had detailed what these were as we didn't fancy going through all of them with the waiter. In the end we both chose a Pineapple and Coconut Mojito which was quite self-explanatory by its name. The cocktails took about 20 minutes to arrive but we weren't really in any rush, and it was one of the best cocktails I've ever tried. The ingredients all tasted high quality and had been mixed well and just worked well together making a refreshing and tasty drink. Plus they were only £8.50 each which is quite reasonable for a decent cocktail in a nice bar. I'll definitely be returning to the bar at some point to sample more of the cocktails.
The menu appears quite complicated at first with many choices, but the waiter kindly explained how it works. There are 4 pages of "Starters" which can be ordered as a starter or you can order several and have them as a main like a tapas style meal. The starters range from £6 - £22 depending what they are and there is so much choice. There are meats, fish, vegetables and salads. I can imagine it would be nice to sample various dishes however in the end we decided to keep it simple and order a main meal each. There are actually only about 10 mains to choose from including pork, lamb, chicken, duck, fish and steak. I decided to go with the pork which was described as "Crispy suckling pork belly with a pineapple curry" which was £15.50. My friend ordered the rib eye steak which was £17.50, and between us we also 2 sides - Grilled asparagus with sweet sesame oil and Sweet potato and rosemary mash.
The food arrived surprisingly fast and all came together. The food was presented perfectly, my food was served on a huge square plate with the pork cut into cubes and lined up on one side, and on the other side there was a red thai curry laid out on the plate which consisted of peas, red peppers and pineapple and topped with spinach leaves. The dish was absolutely delicious! The pork was cooked perfectly and was nice and soft but crispy on top. It went really well with the red thai curry which was full of flavour and different textures. The sweet potato mash was lovely and creamy and had much more flavour than expected. It tasted very buttery which worked well and the rosemary gave it a nice extra flavour. I was also very impressed with the asparagus side. It was served on a plate and the asparagus was on skewers and had been cooked in the sesame oil and sprinkled with sesame seeds. This worked so well and brought the asparagus to life giving it a sweet and crunchy edge.
My friend was also very pleased with her steak which came served with a potato medallion, green beans and peppercorn sauce. The portion sizes were generous, yet we still managed to finish our meals as it was just too good to waste. Overall I was extremely pleased with the quality of the food and am looking forward to returning again and trying some of the other dishes.
When we got in there were two girls stood at the main desk who asked us if we had a reservation and then checked the system. The girls were very glamorous and quite young but appeared efficient. One of the same girls also showed us to our table and was very polite.
We were served by the same waiter for the whole evening and left with mixed feelings regarding the service. The waiter was fairly young and was efficient, yet at times was slightly terse and impatient. At one point we asked a question regarding one of the side dishes and were given a rather abrupt and sarcastic answer, which implied that we were being a bit stupid. This came as a surprise and made the waiter seem a bit cocky! The next surprise came towards the end when we were told we would have to leave quite soon because there was someone else waiting for the table. We had been at the table for around 1.5 hours which does sound a long time but bearing in mind we waited 20 minutes for the cocktails and were told this 10 minutes later when we hadn't even finished the cocktails it seemed a bit out of order. We didn't kick up a fuss though and finished our drinks quickly and paid the bill, however it was disappointing to be rushed in this way after a nice meal. I felt the waiter wasn't too apologetic about rushing us either and would have been happier if he had said sorry and seemed more regretful about having to say it, but instead he was abrupt and we got the feeling he had done this quite often before.
Therefore I left with mixed feelings about the service, as it was always efficient and reliable, yet lacking in any personality and failed to give the experience a personal touch, which is a shame considering how good everything else was.
The bill for the 2 main courses, 2 sides, 1 bottle of wine and 2 cocktails came to £78.40. The food was £43.50 and the drinks £34.90. This was cheaper than we had expected of this restaurant and was good value considering the very high standard of the food and drinks. It also seemed well worth the money to enjoy sitting in the restaurant and taking in the surroundings. There was no service charge automatically added on and we did leave a tip but were slightly more sparing than usual due to our disappointment at the waiter.
This is a truly unique restaurant experience comprising modern trendy surroundings which are more relaxed than most upmarket restaurants, superb food and drinks and all for good value. The restaurant has a very adult clientelle and atmosphere therefore isn't really suitable for families with young children. The service was efficient yet not very friendly or personal which spoilt the experience slightly. Despite this I would definitely return both to the bar to enjoy cocktails, and the restaurant for the lovely food.