The history of film has shown that sequels can be hit and miss. They’re often rushed, unnecessary cash grabs that leverage the success of an original. But then there are the ones that get it right.
In its first instalment, Anchovy Bandit opened in a compact, dark and demure space at the base of the newish Palace cinema complex in Prospect. The original Anchovy experience was introduced with little fanfare; its menu was simple and satisfying. Quite carb-heavy but in all the right ways. The vibe was very New York in the later hours of the night with patrons squeezed into booths that sat almost atop the small corner kitchen that pumped out pizza and pasta dishes with minimal trimmings. As word spread, the venue seemed to almost always be bursting at the seams. Not quite a box office smash, but a show that soon landed itself a bit of cult status.
Behind the scenes, the directors were already working on their next storyline and within a couple of short but hectic years, the headlines were out and, with the help of some design friends, they were ready to release their much-anticipated feature. Enter Anchovy Bandit 2.0, with more than double the space and a new line-up of talent led by executive chef Shane Wilson. With Wilson’s filmography having included time at Hentley Farm, Bistro Dom and Orana, there was no doubt that Anchovy Bandit was ready to get serious. The front-of-house still features original hospo heavyweight Alex Bennett, supported by cameos from his fellow gun-and-cocktail-slingers, depending on the day.
The new space is as exciting as the new menu, with a central table running the length of the dining room, a bank of leather-clad booths and more intimate tables for two.
But the best seats in the house are at the pasta bar, where chefs work to create the base elements of many of their dishes a safe 1.5 metres away from the group who get the VIP treatment each night.
Tonight we’re cosied up in the curtained window seats, tucked away in the original Anchovy space which now feels a bit more like the exclusive area reserved for their friends and familia, away from the constant buzz of the main space, but still where all of the cocktail bar action and pizza-making happens.
A new menu features many original dishes and those that have been reinvented. You might choose from the ‘Short Film’ or ‘Director’s Cut’ feed-me section or choose your own adventure, as we decide to do.
Sourdough focaccia with cultured butter is like the pimped-up popcorn of dining: you need it, you want it, but there’s always the risk that you’ll eat too much before the movie starts. Naturally, we do, but don’t regret it. Then, a series of simple snacks includes a selection of meats, freshly sliced and plated with minimal effort, but plenty of taste. The truffle salami is a standout, alongside some of the best mortadella I’ve tried.
An upside-down crab shell steals the next scene with its silky, barely cooked flesh mixed with a generous amount of crème fraiche and topped with gleaming roe. This is a simple and gorgeous concoction that needs nothing else to result in perfection. While the menu has changed, the ethos and preparation within the kitchen at Anchovy Bandit remains the same: they let the ingredients speak for themselves.
Next, crowd pleasers arrive in the form of two fluffy white-bread sando soldiers that contain a single crumbed prawn sitting on a baby bed of shredded lettuce. It has a nice mayonnaise-like sauce, but it’s the separately supplied chilli butter that sets this one above others that have come before it. There is heat in the house-prepared spicy concoction but, more importantly, there’s flavour. Someone in the kitchen knows their sauces.
While on the topic of spice, there’s a curry-infused dish that needs a special mention. We’re not eating the Bandit’s showcase cheese dish tonight but it’s one I’ve had before and will certainly eat again. The ingredients change with the seasons, but the central component is always the same – a creamy (and dreamy) burrata. The combination of curry and almonds in each version is a surprisingly delicious change from the tomato and basil standard edition. In winter you might find the cheese sitting atop a bed of freshly harvested pine mushrooms; at the moment the best of spring’s white asparagus takes the stage. However it’s listed, make sure you give it a try.
With maximum options but minimal space left to fill it’s time to choose carefully between the next lot of dishes. The billed headlines are Vegetable, Pasta and Pizza, with ingredients that will have you salivating into your Sangiovese. It’s the pinnacle moment: the part where an actor might live or die, on the edge of your (pasta bar) seat. And rigatoni does not disappoint. Silky tubes of pasta blend harmoniously with a delicious lamb ragu; the depth of flavour in the gravy shows that time is the hero ingredient in this sauce, too.
The other hero ingredient that is clearly important to the Bandit is its staff. This is a team of true talent, and key to the success of tonight’s show. They move between stations in an effortless flow, somehow making every table seem like the only one in the room. And as the food and wine flows, you’ll soon feel like part of their family, too.
Not content by just releasing more of the same, when the owners expanded Anchovy Bandit the business also took up some extra space next door, creating Bottega Bandito. A younger Musketeer, still serious about food, but perhaps a little more youthful. It’s a neighbourhood sandwich bar of sorts, a day-time café and deli, slicing and serving some of the best sandwiches and quick eats in town. And the coffee’s really good, too.
But tonight, they have put on a showstopper. It’s the mix of all the right ingredients that makes this sequel better than the original, and I can’t wait to see how the Anchovy Bandit story unfolds in part three.
Phone: 0401 188 845
96 Prospect Road, Prospect
Sunday to Thursday, 5pm-11pm
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