Many Asian-east-side-Melbournians will remember the first Purple Sands in its original location in Doncaster. Though it has come and gone at a number of locations in various interpretations, its reputation for Cantonese cuisine remains an institution in itself. At its current location in close proximity to the Rivoli Cinemas, the décor of this small cosy restaurant is one of muted purple and simple oriental elegance. Manned personally by the owner (also seasoned chef), this place is extremely inviting, relaxed and yet refined. As frequent visitors here, we have become accustomed to how rowdy it can get, though now noticeably softened by recently installed sound absorbers that fall seamlessly in line with the décor.
I’m such a Chinese-menu-snob – I must have the Chinese version, unless of course there isn’t one. Generally it probably doesn’t make that much difference at places in Melbourne, but here at Purple Sand’s there is (and has always been) a separate “Chinese-only” menu. I suspect all if not most of the dishes appear in some form on the English menu, but that is yet to be verified. Anyways, you can always gawk at neighbouring Asian-diners and enquire.
P.S. Classier Chinese restaurants conventionally have used elegant, poetic and auspicious names for their dishes – luckily todays dishes are fairly simple to translate. Apologies for my literal translations.
Coral pouch (珊瑚果 – San wu guo) – An arresting presentation of golden pouches, boasting paper-thin crispy skin that cleanly melts in the mouth to reveal a core of silken-soft tofu and piping-hot pork juices. The accompanying bowl of sauce – though humble looking – is a concoction of sweet, savoury and acidic elements that truly lifts the flavours of the crispy bag of goodness.
Right: Seared wagyu marinated with wasabi (芥辣牛柳) – A fillet of wagyu seared to a succulent, pink perfection that is so remarkably soft that my toothless-grandma could probably eat it. The intense wasabi kick from the mustard helps offset the rich-fatty meat.
Left: Steamed barramundi ping-an style (老少平安清蒸原條盲曹) – Steaming epitomises the simple elegance of cooking fresh-fish straight from the sea (or the tank if you must be exact), show casing the delicate yet firm flesh of the barramundi, which is seasoned with a pleasant but not overpowering light soy and ginger sauce. What’s different here to the typical steamed fish is a bed of airy-fluffy egg that adds an extra textural element. (P.S. sorry about the half eaten photo =P)
Taro and Chinese spinach (芋茸焗菠菜苗) – A layer of wok tossed Chinese spinach with a crisp non-gristly bite, topped with a generous skin of thick-smooth taro paste that had a lovely sweet earthiness. An extra step of broiling to form a light crust, achieves a caramelisation-like-effect, sealing it off as a memorable dish.
Eggplant + tendons (魚香茄子牛筋煲) – I like my tendons cleaned of any excess fat, and I am therefore very impressed when the clay-pot of glossy and well groomed tendons is served. They have a firm bite that is ever so slightly chewy, but still wondrously tender. Acting as a sauce-sponge the eggplant soaks up all the goodness from the thick broth, making them delicious juicy morsels. The only drawback is the calories from this…
Complimentary puddings of coconut, greentea, black sesame – soft creamy cubes of sweet-agar pudding. Green tea is refreshingly bittersweet, coconut is light and creamy, and the sesame (our family’s favourite) though still delicious is no longer the deep-black concentrated version it used to be. It is now a light-grey toned down version, which is lighter on the palate.
Originally the waitress said there wasn’t any of the black sesame, but a quick word to the boss, and VOULA we have a plate of it appear before us – the perks of a father being in the business world with a few connections.
Rating: Yummy+2. Being a frequent diner and loyal fan, I am probably biased in my opinions of this place. But, I will maintain that this is a gem of a place with a lot of respect for Cantonese cuisine, with consistently excellent food. Some dishes are better than others, some which are even better when the boss puts on his apron and gets his hands dirty in the kitchen, and some that brings back nostalgia. Some added elegance and innovation on old recipes keeps things interesting. And, at a mere $155 for 6 people this is extremely value for money. Highly recommended!
180 Camberwell Rd