Anchovy review

Roasted Moreton Bay bugs in a pool of herb butter.
Roasted Moreton Bay bugs in a pool of herb butter. 

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

You know you shouldn't lick the plate. You know it's not OK. But you're also sure it would hurt a lot to watch a plate of delicious shellfish butter be taken to the kitchen to be scraped into a bin.

Then, while you're weighing up two evils, a waiter asks a question so insightful and timely that you're not sure whether to answer or merely weep. "Would you like some sticky rice to mop up that butter?" Yes. Oh yes. Make it happen.

The butter says a lot about Anchovy, a small modern Asian restaurant about to clock up two years. Roasted Moreton Bay bug is smothered in a version of Cafe de Paris butter, a compound herbed butter that's traditionally served with steak. Anchovy's version is funked up with fish sauce and chilli where you'd traditionally find anchovies and paprika.

Vegemite tempura.
Vegemite tempura. Photo: Supplied

Butter-softened herbs – there are so many herbs used here – loll over the spiky crustacean with its handsome tail and sweet white flesh. It's a dish as simple and clever as it is ridiculously tasty. It's also indicative of chef and co-owner Thi Le's particular skew on flavour.

Heavily herbed blood sausage is served in a lettuce wrap: it's simultaneously rich and fresh.

Vegemite is the umami punch in a savoury leek custard that's then spiked with black vinegar and tempura fried. It's an unserious vegetarian snack – you feel there's permission to giggle as the hot, salty tang hits your tongue.

Classy comfort food: Charred corn draped with cured pork jowl.
Classy comfort food: Charred corn draped with cured pork jowl. Photo: Josh Robenstone

A light touch with clever technique is evident in a calamari dish: the seafood is steamed, frozen and sliced into noodles. These strands are tangled with kohlrabi ribbons and served in a kind of Asian tomato gazpacho with lemongrass and shrimp paste and the tang of fermentation. Rice paddy herb – fleshy, citrusy – is scattered over the top.

By contrast, a corn dish is disarmingly simple: pureed corn is the bed for charred baby corn and spring onion with cured pork cheek draped meltingly over the top. It's classy comfort food.

Sharing makes perfect sense here, especially when it comes to the handful of main courses. Pork chop – marinated in Coke – is char-grilled, the sugary drink preparing the exterior for jammy caramelisation. The meat is drippingly juicy close to the bone, but the star of the dish is the profusion of lettuce and herbs towering over it. I love the exuberant green tangle.

Share-friendly: Coca Cola-marinated pork chop.
Share-friendly: Coca Cola-marinated pork chop. Photo: Josh Robenstone

You could call Anchovy a modern Vietnamese restaurant but that would be underplaying the essential Australianness of it. Le's background is Vietnamese but she was born in Malaysia and came to this country as a refugee, aged two. There's no orthodoxy about her food. Ideas are also plucked from Malaysia, Laos and Cambodia, her suburban Sydney childhood eating offal at Chinese yum cha, plus a career that includes time with spice queen Christine Manfield and Andrew McConnell.

Anchovy, her first restaurant, has a concise menu and is exceedingly well-priced, especially if you take the banquet. Service is attentive from an all-female team.

In Anchovy's early days seating was all stools, mostly at communal tables. A renovation has softened the shopfront dining room, added chairs, banquettes and smaller tables. Parties of two, however, are usually seated on stools at the counter or in the window. That won't be for everyone.

Banquettes have been added to Anchovy's interior.
Banquettes have been added to Anchovy's interior. Photo: Josh Robenstone

The butter, though, and all those herbs, the free-wheeling outlook and the enthusiastic experimentation: it's optimistic and, I think, emphatically Australian.

Rating: Four stars (out of five)