Thi Le

Richmond has long been regarded as one of Melbourne’s best Vietnamese food destinations, but the 2015 arrival of Anchovy marked a new chapter in the city’s Indochine food history. Chef and Andrew McConnell alum Thi Le has created a personal, delicious restaurant that owes as much to her family’s Chinese-Vietnamese heritage as it does her upbringing in Sydney’s inner-west. Factor in a strong belief in girl power (see Anchovy’s impressive track record of guest chef events) and you’re looking at an exciting new force in Australian dining. When it comes to off-duty eating and drinking, Le’s picks for her adopted home city are as global as those that shape Anchovy.
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Melbourne’s Best Vietnamese Bakery

I’m just going to call it. Phoc Thanh Bakery on Victoria street does the best bread in Victoria. It’s so fluffy, it’s so light and it always stays super crisp. It’s just so good. Phoc Thanh is a Vietnamese family-operated bakery and banh mi place. Dad is the baker and his daughters make the sandwiches. There’s a line out of the door every time I go. My banh mi order usually depends on the time of year. In winter, I usually go for the crisp pork belly, which is always jam-packed with pork crackling. It’s so good. In summer, I’ll get a banh mi with cold cuts and if I’m really hungry I might jam a few xiu mai (Vietnamese meatballs) in there as well. On the weekend it sells these delicious sesame, glutinous rice balls (bánh cam) that are stuffed with red bean or mung bean. They’re outrageously good. It’s such a treat and at $1.50 each, such a steal. I always tell them, “Guys, you have to put your prices up!”

Game-changing Pho

A Vietnamese dine-in breakfast joint I go to a lot is a pho place called Pho Chu The. Two sisters run it together: one is in the kitchen and one is on the floor. They’ve been doing it for a very long time, so they just know what they’re doing. I normally order the pho with red beef, tripe and beef balls. The broth is rich without being too beefy. My partner always goes for the chicken pho, which is actually really, really good. It has a very clean, chicken flavour. The condiments here are what make all the difference. It serves pickled red onions with the pho. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a game-changer.

Secret Recipe Banh Xeo

Another great Vietnamese place on Victoria street is Than Ha 2. You go here for excellent banh xeo (crisp Vietnamese pancakes). The chef is so pedantic about the batter. She’s the only one in the shop that is allowed to make it – she won’t give anyone the recipe. She’s been doing it for around 20 years and she even grinds rice for the batter. It’s crazy. Her banh xeo is super thin, it’s the thinnest I’ve ever seen. It’s the same size as a wok, so it’s pretty big, but because it’s so light, you can easily eat one to yourself. Then again, it’s nice to go and share a few dishes. The banh cuon (Vietnamese steamed rice noodle rolls) here are really good, too. 

A Great Neighbourhood Sushi Spot

I moved out to the suburbs about a year ago and have been amazed at some of the restaurants around. There’s a little takeaway sushi joint called Popula in Ivanhoe that just blew me away. It’s run by a Japanese husband and wife; I think they must be at least 80-years-old. They only do sushi, mostly maki rolls, nigiri and sashimi. We ordered a sashimi platter and it was unbelievably good. The seafood changes based on what’s best available. A lot of takeaway sushi spots only do generic salmon sushi, but here you can have red snapper, blue fin tuna, kingfish. It’s so good and it’s always so fresh.

Cantonese Food Worth Celebrating

If I have something to celebrate, I usually go to Flower Drum. If you want to go to a restaurant and have your mind blown away by crazy flavours, it’s probably not the place for you: this is where you go if you want to eat well. You go to enjoy great Cantonese food that’s expertly cooked. I love to eat the steamed fish with ginger and shallot. It doesn’t sound very exciting, but my God, it’s the best fish you can get. It’s incredible. And the crab dumplings, I mean, what more do you want? Someone picking crab to order and putting it inside a dumpling. They’re what dreams are made of.

A Life-Changing Omakase Experience

When you go to sushi omakase restaurant Minamishima, you appreciate nature and life.That sounds very la-di-da, but when you’re here, your whole world slows down completely. It’s not about gorging, it’s about eating. You sit at the beautiful bar and sushi master Koichi Minamishima gives you 10 to 15 bites. You’re slowly eating one bite at a time, and each bite is special. How can this guy give you a piece of flounder belly with a little butter and soy and completely change your life? It’s amazing. And the sake match is just so interesting: you’re able to taste a really different range of sakes. It’s a place to celebrate and indulge, to slow down and relax. It’s a place to experience a true craft.

Super Coffee And Sandwiches

When we moved out to the burbs, one of the first questions I asked myself is, “Where am I going to get good coffee now?” To my surprise, I found Super Days. It’s been around for a couple of years now. Sam, the barrister, really knows how to make good coffee. Honestly, it’s so good. And the sandwiches and toasties – which change weekly – are great.

The Afghani Connection

One of the most exciting suburbs to eat in Melbourne is Dandenong which has a huge Afghani community. There’s a lot of places doing their own Afghani desserts, churning their own ice cream, making faloodas. It’s so cool. It’s around 40 minutes by car from the city, but it’s absolutely worth the drive. You get out of the car and immediately all you can smell is barbecue. I went there recently on a Sunday afternoon and saw this long queue of people down the road. Of course, I had to check it out. When we finally got in, we saw that it was this Afghani bakery Maiwand Bakery cooking big Afghani flatbreads in huge tandoors. The ovens are big enough to sit four people inside: they’re massive. One serve of bread – three pieces – is only $1. It’s crazy.

“You Get To Understand and Live Melbourne, Even For Just An Hour”

When friends or chefs visit Melbourne, I love to take them to Napier Quarter. The vibe is just so Melbourne. It’s in a cultural hub where you get to see such diversity and different people. It’s a great place to just sit, drink a coffee and people watch. I always sit outside, which is so nice on a spring or summer morning or afternoon. There are big, beautiful trees and everyone’s walking around, stopping to chat to people. It’s a great feeling. And for visitors, you get to understand and live Melbourne, even for just an hour. The food is also really, really good. The chef sources a lot of ingredients from local farms and producers in Victoria.

Late Night Cantonese Cooking

There’s a great Cantonese restaurant in Box Hill called Wong’s Kitchen. It’s kind of like Golden Century, but not as elaborate. It’s open until two in the morning, so it’s a great option for chefs and hospo (hospitality workers). It does everything from XO pipis to fried rice to noodles. It’s just a great place to eat.

The Art of Cocktails

One place I really love for cocktails is Above Board. You go there, chill out and let bar manager Hayden Lambert do his thing. You can get one of his signatures, or you can have a conversation with him, and he’ll create something special for you. You get to see a craft in the making. It’s an art form.

My Approach To Vietnamese Food

Anchovy is my approach to Vietnamese food. It’s got a lot of influence from Sydney’s western suburbs where I grew up, so you do see a little bit of a mish-mash of cultures on the menu. I love bold flavours and I try to keep it light and fresh. The restaurant is a small, intimate, casual space. People come to eat and have a good time. During Covid, we’ve still been cooking with the same ethos as Anchovy, but with a focus on dishes that you probably can’t cook at home. It’s kind of crazy because as a restaurant, we don’t get to push premium ingredients. They’re quite hard to move, but during lockdown they’ve been flying out the door. There was one Saturday night when I cooked 13 lobsters and two snow crabs back-to-back. It’s an amazing feeling to feel the community supporting you. It keeps things interesting for people and keeps things exciting for us in the kitchen. 

Our guides are fact-checked and updated regularly. Read more here.

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