• Anchovy transformed from modern Vietnamese-Australian restaurant to Laos takeaway joint. (Anchovy/Instagram)Source: Anchovy/Instagram
With fillings like suckling pig, pine mushrooms and Laotian sausage, this punchy sandwich is one of the best things to come out of the pandemic.
By
Audrey Bourget

2 Jun 2020 - 11:43 AM  UPDATED 2 Jun 2020 - 11:43 AM

"I never thought a sandwich could save my business," says chef Thi Le as we chat in Anchovy's empty dining room in Melbourne's inner suburb of Richmond.

Like many restaurant owners, Le and partner Jia-Yen Lee moved to takeaway at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. But they soon began thinking about their next step.

"JY [Jia-Yen] and I started craving Laotian. It's something I grew up eating and JY kinda joked that I should cook Lao food.

"Towards the end of our two-week break, we were like 'yeah, let's just do it'," says Le. "We didn't want to play catch-up, but treat it like we were opening a brand new restaurant, a brand new concept, to keep things exciting for us and to draw people in."

So in a matter of days, Anchovy transformed from a modern Vietnamese-Australian restaurant to a Lao takeaway joint.

Growing up in Sydney’s western suburbs, Le's family and friends would often turn to Lao food for celebrations.

Le says, "We would always go to each other houses and do BBQs and cook predominantly Vietnamese, but there was always a moment where the mums and dads couldn't be bothered, and what became a treat for the family was Laotian food."

Meet the khao jee pâté

On weekends, Anchovy is now slinging khao jee pâté, the Lao cousin of the bánh mì, for $12 a pop.

The baguette sandwich is a popular street food in the Southeast Asian country of Laos, often eaten for breakfast. Liver pâté, pickled vegetables, chilli, and pork and herb sausage are the most common fillings.

Le has kept that spirit, playing around with fillings: "Lao food is very herbaceous and quite spicy. We decided to make a red curry paste with fresh chilli. We smear that onto the khao jee pâté.

"Then, in Laos, there are lots of wild pigs, so we don't use chicken liver to make pâté, we do pork liver pâté. And pickles are a mix that we change up."

"Towards the end of our two week break, we were like 'yeah, let's just do it'."

Depending on the weekend, the sandwich will also be packed with pork and herb sausage, chicken marinated in turmeric and galangal, pine mushrooms, veggie spring rolls or suckling pig.

"We were actually overwhelmed by the amount of people who came in the last few weeks," says Le.

"Some people said they've always wanted to come, but that we were slightly out of their price range. This sandwich epitomises what we do as a restaurant in 10 or so bites."

Fresh, vibrant and spicy

In the evening, Anchovy's takeaway menu has also switched to Lao with dishes like duck larb, green papaya salad with salted crab and sticky rice.

Le continues to use the best ingredients she can get her hands on; Great Ocean Road ducks for the larb, slow-grown Milking Yard Farm chickens for the khao piak sen (chicken and noodle soup), whole pigs from Bundarra Berkshires that get broken down for several dishes, and a fish sauce that has been fermenting for 2-5 years that is now spiking the goi pa (fish salad).

What's next?

Last week, Le and Lee marked Anchovy's fifth anniversary by roasting a suckling pig for the khao jee pâté. They didn't expect this milestone to happen in the middle of a pandemic, but this wasn't going to stop them.

"It needs to be celebrated, life continues. Every time there's a celebration, I want to do a suckling pig. I don't usually get to share these moments with lots of people. Now, we can share it with everyone else.

"I know we can't go to restaurants, but we can still bring joy and excitement to people, that's why we do this," says Le.

While Le and Lee are excited to welcome customers in their dining room again, they are not in a rush. They want everyone to feel safe and comfortable when it finally happens, so you can expect Lao takeaway for a bit longer, and possibly these flavours to become a permanent fixture on Anchovy’s menu.

"Whatever we do when we come back, there needs to be a fire in the kitchen," concludes Le. 


Anchovy
338 Bridge Road, Richmond
Dinner (takeaway only) Wed–Sat 5:30pm–8pm
Lunch (khao jee pâté, takeaway only) Fri 11:30am–2pm and Sat–Sun 10:30 am–1pm


Love the story? Follow the author here: Instagram @audreybourget and Twitter @audreybourget

SUPPORTING OUR RESTAURANTS
Six street food recipes that trend in the Top End
We've got the recipes for Top End street eats that'll bring the flavour of Darwin to your kitchen.
Sage advice: How this herb may boost your memory
Traditionally used to heal many ailments, there is research now making inroads to determine exactly how sage can benefit your health.
The Melbourne Food & Wine Festival is going online
Watch Massimo Bottura take on lasagne, Kate Reid's virtual tour of Lune Croissanterie and Shane Delia cook from his home kitchen.
A lockdown couldn't stop this vegan ramen joint from opening
Try the vegan ramen joint that launched the week dine-in restaurants got banned.
How restaurants are pivoting to survive this pandemic
From ramen bowls to two-minute noodles and spirits to hand sanitiser: Here are some of the leaps and bounds food businesses are making during COVID-19.
The restaurant owners doing extraordinary things to keep staff employed
Restaurants are doing it really tough in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are many businesses that are trying to help their employees out where they can.