With Big Fil away for a week, Ms No Meat and I ventured out alone to see what Melbourne offered for a Friday lunch. My choice for the day was the funky Purple Peanuts Japanese Cafe at the bottom of Collins Street; Big Fil's choice really as it's a place he wants to visit, and I knew he'd be peeved when he heard I went without him.
Purple Peanuts isn't what I expected from a Japanese cafe (and it was at this point I had to give myself a talk about cultural assumptions and personal limitations). After all, why wouldn't a country that does cute so well it's spawned a cultural genre--Kawaii meaning cute, lovely, sweet even amazing with Hello Kitty and Pikachu the perfect examples--be able to seriously deliver on cuteness. And Purple Peanuts hits that cute spot really well with a generous dose of Melbourne grunge thrown in to give it a satisfying Melbourne feel.
To say Purple Peanuts is tiny is an understatement, and with all the tables inside taken Ms No Meat and I had our pick of one of the seats on the street or the small amount of seating along the alley. We braved the alley and I was ready to be chilled but it didn't turn out to be so bad, and had the advantage of a bird's eye view of the kitchen and barbecue hard at work preparing our food.
Ms No Meat and I have a system when we go out together: we always go vegetarian and we always share. Purple Peanuts was no different and I was pleased to see how many and how good the vegetarian options were. My choice was the vegetable onigiri with a choice of two salads. Ms No Meat went for the tofu and vegetable curry. Given the temperature I also ordered a tea, so I had something to wrap my hands around, but I was glad to not really need it. We both agreed the onigiri was the pick of of our meals, in terms of quantity and taste.
I loved my meal. The onigiri was satisfyingly filled with fresh vegetables and not bland as it could have been. The outside was fried to perfection and nicely crunchy. But it was the salads I really enjoyed, with the potato salad the stand out. I'm not a huge fan of cheap bottled mayonnaise (American style) and this wasn't! I'd go back to Purple Peanuts for this salad alone. And if you enjoy garlic try the green bean and carrot salad; it's slathered with garlic!
Ms No Meat's curry was good, and looked generous in its large bowl with plenty of rice and sauce. But it was light when it came to vegetables coming in at only two pieces each of the potato, carrot and bean curd and one only of the eggplant and zucchini. Not much generally, and even less when you share.
Purple Peanuts is a little out of the way (for us) at the bottom end of Collins Street near Southern Cross Station but that obviously doesn't deter the many who travel there to eat in or grab takeaway. It has plenty of desserts and meat offerings I'd like to try, and will go back another time. The serving sizes are generous, and the price is good but the curry was way too light when it came to vegetables. I was also suitably impressed at the service (efficiency and politeness) given the serious crowds that day. I was also impressed our food made its way to us outside given the waitress didn't seem to take note of where we were sitting, we had no number and a different person delivered our food.
Only one suggestion: change the menu written on browning, food spattered paper tacked up to the wall behind the front counter. Gross!
Food - 7.5
Service - 8
Ambience - 8.5
Price - 7.5
620 Collins St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Tel: 03 9620 9548