The next big thing: Anchovy in Richmond.
The next big thing: Anchovy in Richmond. Photo: Wayne Taylor

338 Bridge Road Richmond, Victoria 3121

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Opening hours Tuesday-Thursday 5.30pm-10.30pm; Friday noon-10.30pm; Saturday 3pm-10.30pm
Features Accepts bookings, Bar, Licensed, Long lunch, Outdoor seating, Romance-first date, Wheelchair access
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Thi Le
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9428 3526

There are zero times you don't want to high five everyone in the room when eating at this fleet-footed Viet-Oz mash-up on Bridge Road. That's possibly because just lately Melbourne's developed a bit of a #dadbod dining scene – still good, just a bit too comfy, with all its reimagined steakhouses and neo-classical Italians. Sydney, meanwhile has been pulling at the edges with its Lumis and Acmes and Chaco Bars. And we've noticed. They're just a little fitter than us right now.

Happily, Melbourne's hit the cross-trainer. Now we're grasping a pate chaud​ in one fist (basically a pork dumpling crossed with a party pie, heavy on the party), and a handful of fish mint in the other, and waving them in the air like we just don't care. Except really, we do. We care a lot. We've been hanging out for something fresh and different and Anchovy is it.

The formula works: classic Vietnamese flavours, sharply focused and formatted for fun, by a team who likes to eat. That pate chaud is as much a mission statement as a snack - a buttery pastry shell filled with gingery pork mince and flecks of wood ear mushroom, amped with pickled fennel and mustard. It's pretty much a written command to sit at the bar, order seven for dinner and regret nothing.

The pork pastry at Anchovy.
The pork pastry at Anchovy. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Chef Thi Le's resume is a roll call of restaurants you should eat at, run by produce-worshipping chefs with game - Cumulus, Luxembourg, the Town Mouse and Sydney's Universal (RIP) - which makes a lot of sense when it comes to the light-handed, perfect balance of flavours on her plates.

That might be a slab of star anise-y blood pudding, prepped the Spanish way - dense and steamed rather than boiled. It's fried and mounted on a cosberg boat (the frilly progeny of iceberg and cos) with a pickled ginger dressing and Vietnamese mint scything the richness.

The rice paper roll is mostly killer, with a moderate amount of filler featuring raw kingfish and big slippery rags of fresh young coconut, with vermicelli giving just the right amount of bounce. Two eggs are perfectly fried to a big lacy doily and rest on crisp-on-the-outside-silky-on-the-inside rice cake cubes for chopping and mixing with shredded green pawpaw salad and fresh herbs. Le balances on a tightrope of textures with seamless execution.

The beignets with passionfruit cream and condensed milk.
The beignets with passionfruit cream and condensed milk. Photo: Wayne Taylor

They've sweated the details here. You can see it in the tiny gestures, such as cups of complimentary lemongrass tea on arrival, and a drinks list built for those here to eat (hey, Wittman 100 Hugel riesling), party (hi there, longies of Tsing Tao) or keep it tidy (see the sharp and fruity poached rhubarb syrup and soda).

Service has a shine to it too, courtesy of Ted James (another McConnell group expat) and co-owner Jia-yen Lee. It's more about what's not being said or done. Dishes are cleared when there's a conversational break, wine lists appear wordlessly as you finish a glass and no clingy American-style "check-ins". You're being watched, but it's impressive, not creepy.

They're definitely pro-offal, but even so, chicken hearts and livers tangled up with fine egg noodles are made salty, citrussy and un-gutsy with a yuzu kosho dressing, fried shallots and coriander. See also super sticky and soft beef intercostals - those sinewy between-the-rib muscles – teamed with webs of steamed rice noodles. Pack into crisp leaves with a spicy nuoc cham, but maybe skip the fish mint unless you like your greenery to taste like cod.

Rice cakes with fried egg, green papaya and chilli soy.
Rice cakes with fried egg, green papaya and chilli soy. Photo: Wayne Taylor

There's what you might call a One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest look to the minimally furnished room of communal tables wrapped with white wall panels, but you'd voluntarily commit yourself if it meant round-the-clock access to the beignets - a big bowl of fluffy, crisp doughnut balls sit on a sharp passionfruit cream with a drizzle of condensed milk soaking into the crisp shells. Messy, delicious madness ensues.

You can book, and you should. This is modern-Asian for the pro-innovation and anti-neon crowd and that's been a long-time coming for this part of town. Richmond's about to catch on fire. Get in while you can.

 Great local and French wine talent with bottles from $45 up and smashable beers equal party times.

Pro-tip Book ahead - this is the next big thing

Go-to dish Vietnamese blood pudding with pickled ginger and cosberg ($8)

Like this Casual snacks and sharp talent unite at Mister Jennings up the road, 142 Bridge Road, Richmond.