It's taken us far too long to visit Fina's for the first time. Reader Ben emailed us about it more than a year ago, Jay reminded us more recently and, after we found their shopfront closed during the Christmas/New Year period, The Simple Eater stopped in and wrote a very positive post about the cafe. Hopefully having some friends living back in the Richmond neighbourhood will give us the excuse we need to sample more of their lengthy all-vegetarian, Vietnamese menu. We met our mates there between two of tomorrow's parties.
The menu is quite something to tackle - a plastic folder with a photograph of every dish plus a title and blurb in a difficult-to-read curly font. Don't dilly dally in front of the manager though! He doesn't care for time wasters. After the usual rice paper and spring rolls, the menu offers a wide range of soups, some noodle dishes, stir-fries and hot pots - many dishes are vegan, and there's a mix of mock meat and non-mock options. The enormous cakes out front look decidedly less vegan, and gluten-free choices aren't clear (though amongst all the vermicelli and rice paper I'm sure there are some).
On yet another hot morning, I was thrilled to see an extensive selection of juices, ice slushies and bubble tea. Michael fell back on a Vietnamese iced coffee ($4), served half-full as pictured above. He missed the shaved ice that it comes with it elsewhere, but most importantly it was strong and sweet.
I've long wished that iced chai was more widespread, so I had to try Fina's Ice Chai Latte ($5.50) even though I didn't really want something creamy. Oops. This was a triple-dairy-threat of milk, icecream and thick piped cream, more like a vanilla milkshake with cinnamon sprinkled on top. Fun but lacking the spiciness I want from chai.
By far the cheapest way to eat is to go with their vegetarian roll ($4.50), a mock-pork banh mi with a sweet and somewhat spicy sauce, plenty of fresh salad and peanuts. Michael slammed it in little more time than it took me to photograph my food.
On our friend Clamps' recommendation I tried the Vietnamese pancake ($10.50). It's an enormous vegan omelette imitator with a batter of rice flour and coconut milk coloured with turmeric and studded with chunks of onion, mock ham, mock prawn and mushroom folded over a mountain of bean shoots. The objective is to fold portions of it into lettuce leaves, add mint and dip - the pancake was a little greasy, and I was slow and messy at the task, but it was well worth the effort.
Fina is colourful, comfortable and casual. We encountered brisk but friendly service and didn't feel at all rushed. Meals are cheap and, for the most part, very generously portioned. Thanh Nga Nine and Loving Hut have a real rival here for our Victoria St affections.
Fina's has previously received positive reviews from The Simple Eater and foodie about town, and an ambivalent one from Phúc Buddies.
Fina's Vegetarian Cafe
268 Victoria St, Richmond
veg dishes $4.50-14.00, drinks $3.20-7.50
Accessibility: I think there's a small step on entry, but the interior is flat with a clear passage through the middle. Tables are moderately crowded (see photo above). The venue is well lit but the menu font is difficult to read - it's got photos of all the food anyway. We ordered at our table and paid at a low-ish counter. We didn't visit the toilets.