I was a little bit sad to discover that Fonda isn’t named after Henry Fonda. Can you imagine a Henry Fonda cafe? I can, and it’s GLORIOUS. There’s going to be a lot of design features based on 12 Angry Men. People with capital, hook me up, I can make all your Golden Hollywood-themed restaurant ventures come true.
But we are not here to talk of actorly Fondas, we are here to talk about Mexican Fondas. Specifically new Richmond eatery Fonda, which has taken the current Melbourne-wide craze for Mexican food by the horns and is pumping out simple tacos and burritos for rampaging hoards of foodies, all of whom seem to be repeating the phrase “Authentic Mexican!” with scary fervor (anyone else starting to develop a twitch whenever the word ‘authentic’ is used in food criticism? I sure am. Apart from the problematic nature concerning the subjectiveness of a word like ‘authentic’, I’m mostly annoyed that it seems to have become a stand-in for the word ‘good’. Authentic and good aren’t synonyms! And if you use authentic in place of good you sound like a ginormous snob and cause me to want to go eat a cornucopia of homogenized processed crap just to spite you. Because I’m horrible like that).
Anyway, bygones, let us sail onward! Aimee, Lucy, Amelia and I spent a sunny lunch at Fonda sitting at one of their outside tables. We were quite lucky to get a table at all, as the place seems to be constantly packed. Interaction with staff is kept to a minimum, there is no table service and you have to order at the inside counter (meaning that you have to make sure one of your party is camped on your table at all times, lest a desperate group of hipsters snatch it away from you while you’re looking for a menu).
Lucy and I got the vegetarian tacos, all green with cubes of zucchini and squash, scads of peas and a drizzly sauce of unknown herby provenance with a very slight presence of jalapeno, dusted with a delicate frizz of grated ricotta. We were fascinated by the texture of the soft corn taco shells, all cross-hatched and rough in our hands. They were clearly comprised of fresh produce, and came very quickly out of the kitchen, which is always heartening. I would think that anyone expecting ZING! from their tacos may find these examples a touch boring. But Lucy and I both found them to be incredibly tasty!
Amelia went with a fish taco, which had little crumbed strips of battered fish in them, which was a bit of an impressive sight. Like Lucy and myself, she thought everything was fresh and tasty, but baulked at the small size, especially in consideration of the price ($5 for veggie, $6 for fish). They certainly weren’t comparable in size to, say, Mamasita’s tacos, which are larger at around the same price, although I’m of the opinion that, taste-wise, Fonda dishes up the better taco (THAT’S RIGHT, I’M JUST FULL OF UNPOPULAR OPINIONS TODAY).
Indeed, the twin issues of portion size and price were collectively our biggest quibbles with Fonda. We’re not denying the quality of what is being served up, it just seems like everything should be a touch cheaper based on the size of portions. The tacos are quite titchy in particular, and even the more expensive and, one would assume, more filling burritos have small stage presence. Aimee’s chicken burrito (around $12.50-$14 from vague memory) had clearly high quality ingredients, yet seemed dwarfed by the plate it came on. Even the chips we ordered, covered in a thick and delightfully spice-laden chipotle sauce (seriously, that sauce is a winner, Lord of the Fries should poach it), were deemed to be of too small portions by Aimee and Amelia, considering their $5 price tag.
The only thing I personally felt to be a steal price-wise was the $3.50 charred corn or, as it should be called, corn-onna-stick. I LOVE CORN-ONNA-STICK. Half a cob of corn lightly basted in a slightly chilli-ish sauce, grilled and then sprinkled in more of the fluffy shaved ricotta. I probably could have eaten about ten of these quite happily. MORE FOOD ON STICKS PLEASE.
I wandered back to Fonda for a second visit last night with Rob to experience what their take-away service is like. While the food was much slower this time to make it out of the kitchen (I think we waited around 20-25 minutes, though we were told that there was to be a 15 minute wait initially), the staff seemed measurably more cheery and personable than on my first visit, and my veggie tacos were just as good the second time round. Rob was so pleased he could get a burrito without cheese (Rob has cheese problems. I know, it’s a sad affliction) that I think he was pretty happy on that score alone. Wait aside, I think take-away is probably the best way to experience Fonda if you find the space a little too bustling.
So, in conclusion, Fonda’s portions are on the small side and you’d probably be quite right to question the price of things, and it’s too frantic a place to truly relax in, but the food is fresh, competent and, sometimes, fast. Most importantly, it tastes pretty damn fine! And I’ll forgive a hell of a lot of sins if in the end the food is delicious. It’s definitely worth trying out at least once if you’re curious, and if you end up not being too keen, well, they’ve got half of Melbourne trying to get through the doors, they’re not going to notice if you slink sheepishly away.
248 Swan Street, Richmond
Ph: 9429 0085