Opening week was a roller-coaster for Thi Le and Jia-Yen Lee, the pair behind Richmond’s modern Vietnamese restaurant Anchovy.

“We went from being an exposure site, to closing, to opening a new venue and then back to takeaway,” Le tells Broadsheet. “It’s been pretty full-on.” But the silver lining was that they finally got to open their banh mi bar, Ca Com, in the space next door.

During last year’s lockdown, the team started serving khao jee pate – a similarly baguette-based street-food sandwich that’s Lao in origin – to complement a takeaway dinner menu focused on Laos. Eventually they transitioned to serving banh mi out of Anchovy’s window, a move that proved so popular they kept it on as a Saturday-only special between lockdowns.

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But running a restaurant and a banh mi pop-up simultaneously – and out of the same space – was a challenge. So, when the massage parlour next door became available, Lee and Le took over and got to work, fitting it out themselves wherever possible.

“You walk through the door and on your right-hand side there’s a big island bench. The hearth is there – it just looks like a big home kitchen. You can see the chef’s station and everything, it’s on full display,” Le says. Most of the prep – including marinating meats, and chopping and pickling vegetables – is done in the Anchovy kitchen, but proteins are cooked on the woodfire hearth and the banh mi are all assembled in Ca Com.

Popular menu items now include the turmeric chicken, the jungle pork sausage and the Manchurian pumpkin (it’s coated in a blend of Chinese and Indian spices, then roasted on the hearth). While the flavours might change, there’ll always be at least one chicken and one vegan option. Pork, too – the team gets whole pigs in, so expect cuts such as belly and neck; secondary cuts and the skin will go into sausages.

There’ll also be rotating specials. In the past there’s been a “banh stra-mi” with Warialda Beef pastrami, and fillings such as bacon and egg, mortadella from LP’s Quality Meats, pig’s head terrine, and crumbed garfish stuffed with chao tom (prawn mousse).
“One of the dishes that pretty much put Anchovy on the map was our Vietnamese blood pudding, so we’re looking to do a banh mi with our blood pudding and a fried egg,” Le says.

The mainstay banh mi are around $13 while specials will go for up to $22, with Le of the opinion we should all be paying more for the Vietnamese roll. “We’ve always felt that Asian food has been [perceived as] cheap compared to other cuisines. No one wants to pay for a banh mi and I find it crazy – a lot of banh mis and fillings are made from scratch,” she told Broadsheet ahead of the opening. “Everything’s cooked over fire, we’ve got no gas, no nothing. And [we’re] using a lot of local produce and think it’s in the same ballpark as all the Western sandwiches.”

Post-lockdown, Ca Com will be open for dine-in, with breakfast counter seats around the small space. There’ll be a longer sit-down menu and rotating salads in addition to the takeaway banh mi.

Ca Com is takeaway-only during Melbourne’s lockdown.

Ca Com
336 Bridge Road, Richmond

Hours:
Wed to Sun 11am–sold out (during lockdown)

@cacom.banhmi.bar