UPDATE Friday, July 23: Anchovy's dining room might be closed for now, but its pop-up window is open for business, slinging a daily-changing banh mi menu Wednesday through Monday, for as long as lockdown continues and including the week beginning Monday, July 26. Check their Instagram to see what's headlining each day and swing past from 11am to pick up your bahn mi. Recent creations have included Manchurian-spiced roast pumpkin, turmeric chicken and a jungle spice pork sausage number. For more details on Victoria's current restrictions, see the Department of Health and Human Services website.
Anchovy is chef Thi Le's baby. With a CV that includes Cumulus Inc., Luxembourg, Supernormal Canteen and Sydney's Universal, it's fair to say that Thi has earned her stripes alongside some of the best in the industry. She's responsible for The Dinner Project, a charity initiative that, after starting in Sydney, was brought down to Melbourne with her. The not-for-profit venture aims to raise money and community awareness for charities through delicious dinners. Passionate chefs donate their time, suppliers donate their produce and all profits go to charitable organisations around Melbourne.
But now she has her own place. Describing the food as driven by her South East Asian roots, but still "influenced by contemporary cooking techniques and modern Australian cuisine", the menu is delightfully simple; light bites are followed by more substantial plates and then three mains. Naturally, all are designed to be shared.
When every dish that comes out is your new favourite flavour, you know you're onto something good. Welcomed with mint tea to prepare the palate, there were sighs of enjoyment from the first bite of wok-tossed garlic shoots with spiced salt ($5). These were quickly followed by Vietnamese blood pudding: little sausages nestled in hybrid cosberg lettuce and topped with slivers of preserved ginger ($8 each). If ever you've had reservations about blood pudding, now is the time to cast them aside — these viet-style herbed delights are both creamy and also very light.
Steamed clams ($23) are served in a turmeric and dill broth, which is both savoury and earthy, and incredible. Drink straight from the bowl kind of incredible. In the upward curve of gastronomic bliss, the shared main dish of braised goat, preserved bean curd, and taro in young coconut sauce ($28) is nothing sort of rapturous. But that's not all — there's dessert. Keeping it simple with two choices, the caramelised pear, toasted rice milk sorbet and ginger seals the deal ($12). Thi Le knows her flavours and she's not afraid to use them.
The decor might be sparse — all white walls, clean lines and dropped industrial bulbs — but the staff are welcoming, knowledgeable and heart-warmingly proud to talk about the food and beverages on offer. With a range of local and imported wines and beers and an exotic and inspired cocktail list, it's easy to make a night of it here. Fridays and Saturdays are already busy, so reservations are highly recommended.