Now a Richmond staple, Anchovy’s mod-Australian take on Asian flavours continues to see the restaurant pack out every night of the week.

Behind the award-winning Melbourne restaurant is Thi Le: design student turned chef. After a mentorship with Christine Manfield and stints at Cumulus Inc., the Town Mouse, Luxembourg and Sydney’s Universal, Thi opened Anchovy with Jia-Yen Lee in 2015 to lavish praise. And that praise has continued undimmed, with Thi Le winning Best New Talent at the 2017 Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Awards.

We asked Thi to share a few stories behind Anchovy and her take on food trends, comfort food and her recent partnership with We Love Our Lamb.

Before Anchovy, we heard a rumour you had plans to open a fried chicken shop? How did this idea transform into Anchovy?

Originally I wanted a barbecue chicken shop with an Asian twist – think tamarind-roasted chicken with sticky rice and all the condiments. But sadly I lost the bid on eBay for my wood-fired barbecue! I then decided to go down the route of a conventional restaurant, which ballooned into Anchovy as it is today. The menu is inspired by a number of different cultures and foods, so you’ll find everything, including lamb, on the menu – all done in the Anchovy way.

What has been the response to your food since you opened?

[The] response has been great. When we first started out, I was really pigeonholed into the ‘Vietnamese cuisine’ category due to my cultural background. However, I think of my food as more Asian-Australian – like me. The foundations are Vietnamese, but the menu is influenced by everything else around me too. I feel like guests at the restaurant have really embraced the diversity of flavours and influences.

Where do you find these flavours and influences?

I grew up in Blacktown, New South Wales, and spent my childhood eating Filipino, Laotian and Turkish food – all the ethnicities of Blacktown, really. These influences aren’t so much a concept for Anchovy; I simply cook the food I like to eat and that tends to be inspired by a number of cultures.

What were your goals when designing the space?

Our current look is our second-go at designing the space. Our first attempt was done on a budget and did not really involve much design! I wanted something light, bright and modern that complemented the food. The approach to the new design was a bit like my approach to food – layered with a rich but minimalist approach. We worked with a local studio, Fiona Lynch, to achieve this, and I think it has been really well done.

What made you strike up the partnership with We Love Our Lamb? Why lamb?

I love lamb. Mum always had lamb on the dining table. It’s got such great flavour, especially on the BBQ and it’s so easy to work with. It’s also a great meal to get people from all backgrounds and cultures around the table together, which is why it is so perfectly aligned with the menu and philosophy of Anchovy.

What do you think is the biggest mistake people make when preparing and cooking meat?

Overthinking and over-cooking the protein. When cooking with lamb, always have the meat at room temperature, take advantage of residual heat after cooking and allow enough time for the lamb to rest!

What’s your go-to meal when you’re at home?

Hotpot! It’s such a great way of eating. All you need to do is to get the soup base done and then everyone cooks their meat and veggies communally over a boiling pot of broth. Lamb works particularly beautifully for this kind of cooking and big shared meal. It’s like a gift that keeps on giving.

What are your thoughts on food trends? What would you like to see as the next one?

Food trends are just trends, they come and go. I so wish the next ‘trend’ would be consumer awareness of where food comes from and the work it takes to grow or farm produce. So much food gets thrown out and wasted, not just at homes but also in restaurants. There is more to food than just what is on the plate. I grew up on soup, or what trendy paleo diners now know as bone broth. It’s partly funny and partly depressing that it’s taken a health food movement to shine a light on how the whole animal or vegetable can be used to make delicious meals.

What’s your favourite place to eat in Melbourne?

Noi Lucky, Springvale.

What’s next for Anchovy and your culinary career?

I’d like to step into something a bit different from Anchovy, perhaps faster pasted and overseas – who knows!

You can read more about Anchovy here, or whip up some of Thi’s recipes for We Love Our Lamb below.

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