Anchovy at home reviewed

Published on 24 April 2020

The order: Laotian-style pork and herb sausage with tamarind relish; pork neck skewers with lemongrass, coriander and white-pepper glaze; goi pa, a kingfish salad with green chilli, padaek and herbs; and bean-thread noodles with red curry and prawns.

The review: Remember that unsettling moment a few weeks ago when Anchovy dangled the possibility of doing takeaway during the lockdown and then quickly shelved the idea? Now, not only is Thi Le back on the tools, she’s trying a whole new emphasis to her South East Asian menus, zeroing in on what she calls the loud, funky and fresh flavours of Laos. And , if you’re an Anchovy regular, you will be completely unsurprised to hear Thi has nailed it straight out of the gate.

My only regret is not having ordered the entire menu. The meat on the skewers is smoky and savoury, cut beautifully by the sweet-sour tang of the tamarind relish. The pork sausage, sliced and served with raw cabbage, has that lemongrass twang and appealingly coarse, herby texture that marks many a good sausage from Laos and northern Thailand. The red-curry bean-thread noodles are rich and sweet, like a yum woon sen, with chopped prawn meat and plenty of soft green herbs folded through them and lemon on the side.

And then there’s the goi pa. With toasted rice and chopped kingfish as its substance, it has plenty in common with a classic larb, and it’s so light and layered – the cascade of freshness from the lemongrass, lime, coriander and mint, and the salty hit of the fermented Lao fish sauce called padaek – you don’t notice that this is a four-chilli salad until it’s too late. Too late, that is, in all the right ways.

You might suddenly find yourself looking for some rice. The menu suggests a serve of sticky rice per diner. It’s not wrong. You’ll be reaching again and again for little bags to pinch out another ball of rice, dense and warm, to pop into your mouth with a morsel of sausage or another swipe through the salad. Once you pop, you can’t stop.

I haven’t tried the grilled ox tongue (with sweet and spicy dipping sauce) or the lahm (a stew, made some days with pork others with beef rib, brimming with Thai eggplant, dill and loofah), let alone the green papaya salad with cherry tomatoes, salted crab and snake beans, but my mouth waters at their mere mention. There’s also a spatchcock barbecued whole with “jungle spices” (hello!) and served with roasted eggplant and tamarind, and a dessert has just joined the line-up: a coconut and jasmine-tea panna cotta with quince and tapioca pearls (“Or, translated into a bubble milk-tea order – jasmine milk-tea with sago and quince, little sugar.”)

Paired with: We’ve been catching up on some classics this week, so this found us on day two (of three) of watching Gone With the Wind. Some kind of Southern barbecue might’ve been more on-theme with our viewing (or at least some earthy radishes), but Anchovy to Go is pretty transporting stuff whatever’s on the screen.

Price: Our meal landed at $75 and fed two of us right up to the gills.

Leftover potential: I can express this in purely theoretical terms because we didn’t leave behind a fleck of herb or a grain of sticky rice, but if you were less greedy or perhaps less starved of finely wrought South East Asian flavours and didn’t polish off the lot in a single sitting, the stews would probably look pretty good the next day. There would be worse things to put with your breakfast eggs or toast than a slice of the pork sausage, too.

Pick up or delivery? Pick up.

Booze option? In true Anchovy style, there’s a short and eclectic mix of options ranging from an Italian soft-drink (Baladin’s Spuma Nera, which “drinks like root beer with a delightful hint of Campari-bitterness”) to a syrah-grenache from the Rhône (the fresh and zippy Domaine Les Deux Terres 'Zig Zag', a “school-night wine” to drink with the “snack-pack trifecta – sausage, ox tongue and pork skewers”).

Why you should order it: Before the lockdown, all Anchovy offered was one of the freshest takes on South East Asian dining in Australia. Now it’s all that and more: a tonic to blast away the culinary cobwebs, and a powerful charm keep the dining-at-home doldrums at bay.

Anchovy to Go, 338 Bridge Rd, Richmond. Pick-up only, dinner Wed-Sat.

By Pat Nourse