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The Purple Onion

Five days ago, I was one of only five Aussies in a room full of Kiwis watching New Zealand slaughter the Australian rugby team. Where were all the patriotic Wallabies? Now I know. They were all at the new venture opened by Australian chef and entrepreneur extraordinaire David Laris. Every table was full, and Australian accents were twanging all over the room. At least we’re patriotic when it comes to what matters most – food.

The Purple Onion is at the end of a lovely French Concession residential lane off Huashan Lu, inside the ground floor of an old lane house with a beautiful and private enclosed courtyard. A large and leafy tree shades the courtyard in the daytime and will make it a great place for a long lunch, once the temperature drops below 40 degrees.

Inside, in the cool, the interior is very sophisticated with shades of black and dark plum. The menu is good Australian bistro style – fresh, fresh, fresh ingredients, light flavours, cooked to perfection.  I was in raptures over a starter of sardines on toast – two big plump sardines, salt-grilled, and served on a bed of sweet thick tomato sauce spread on a piece of crisp Turkish bread. Beats anything you can get from a tin with a roll-top lid.

For the main course I chose the plump rib eye steak. It was served sliced, in all is medium rare glory, on a heavy square wooden platter, and with a crisp rocket, cress and herb side salad and three separate sauces – the afore-mentioned tomato, the house-special purple onion marmalade, and cafe de paris butter. After months of eating nothing but pork, I would have been happy with cracked pepper on my steak, but the sauces were all delicious.  The only quibble was this – if you’re planning on charging 228 yuan for a steak ($36), it shouldn’t come with untrimmed gristle around the edges. When everything else is so well presented, it is a shame to send the wooden platter back to the kitchen with a small mound of chewed gristle on the side. 



The steak was followed by a holy trinity of house sorbets – chocolate, vanilla and pistachio. Smooth, creamy, lovely. They made up for the gristle. All in all a fine night, and for five minutes I thought I was in Sydney. That’s quite an achievement.