They gave the Melbourne Vietnamese experience a fresh, personal take with Anchovy in 2015. In 2020, they turned the bánh mì into the must-own accessory of the pandemic at Ca Com. Now, in 2022, Thi Le and Jia-Yen “JY” Lee are celebrating the bright culinary tapestry of Laos, and Bridge Road is here for it.
Operating out of the space that until recently housed Anchovy (set to return in a more intimate configuration in the nearish future), the pivot from Vietnamese to Laotian food isn’t such a pivot after all. “Lao flavours have been part of the foundation of dishes at Anchovy since 2015,” said JY Lee. “We served Lao cuisine for takeaway over the first lockdown. We want to reintroduce this menu as a more permanent fixture back to the Melbourne dining scene.”
Through the fire and the flames at Bridge Road’s greatest Southeast Asian address, here’s chef Thi Le with what’s good at Jeow.
How about a drink?
Something delicious, chilled and bubbly to complement the chilli and all that padek. Beerlao Dark Lager comes to mind immediately. I’m quite partial to dark lagers and this hits the mark with its caramel and malty notes. Its lighter body also lends itself to multi-bottle swigging throughout the meal. Beer not your thing? The Terrason Printemps pét nat is my other go-to.
I’m here for a good time not a long time.
Order the raw beef salad, the fish cake, the sticky rice, and the nam khao. Wash it all down with Beerlao Lager or a glass of bubbles.
Our nam khao, Laos’s famed crisp rice salad, is light and fresh, textural and flavourful. It brings smiles to faces, even if you have accidentally bitten into a bit of chilli and hit its seeds.
Got anything light and fresh?
There’s lots here that fits that description. The grilled whole fish (a snook with garlic sauce, perhaps). all the laaps (raw beef, duck or fish), and the papaya salad with fermented crab all spring to mind.
What if I like tasty food but don’t eat animals?
We had a vegan guest on our very first night. We started them off with steamed tapioca pearls stuffed with Jerusalem artichokes and cashews. Delectable. We then sent a mushroom parcel: mushrooms (dehydrated and fresh) mixed with aromatics and soybean paste and steamed in a banana-leaf parcel. It’s textural and fragrant all at once. A dessert of coconut sorbet, ginger granita and roasted pears capped it off.
Name the dish that captures the Jeow vibe.
The fish laap we make using Murray cod. The jeow mak kreow brings it together – it’s a Laotian jeow, or sauce, made from chilli, shallots, and charred eggplant: vibrant and herbaceous. Despite all that, you can still taste the fish – the flavour of the Murray cod stands up. It is textural, fun to eat and spicy, and you’re left with the lingering smokiness of the jeow.
Let’s go big. Let’s go crazy. What have you got for me?
Bring four other friends for a table of five. Hit the oysters served with a dragonfruit jeow som, aromatic fish cakes stuffed with lemongrass, and barbecued beef tongue. Get a laap of your choice, a papaya salad, the steamed tapioca pearls. Get the nam khao. A whole fish. The barbecued spatchcock. Get a magnum of Domaine Champalou Vouvray. Finish it off with a couple of each of our desserts for the table to share.
And to close?
Our durian and white chocolate Swiss roll. The classic Asian bakery staple has found its way to our menu, but we’ve tarted it up a bit – Meyer lemon marmalade brings the coconut sponge and durian and white chocolate cream together.