Once upon a time there was Taco Bill — Australia's answer to an American success, renamed after a guy whose name isn't exactly Hispanic, synonymous with meal deal coupons and fish bowl cocktails that are destined to come back up shortly after consumption. Nothing wrong with that; it is "Australia's favourite family restaurant", according to their website anyway. Somewhere along the line the cheese-laden burrito got a makeover (or under) and today, if you don't know your fajitas from your ensaladas — not to be confused with enchiladas — or molays, you're seriously uncouth. Thank goodness for Fonda, David Youl and Tim McDonald's humble, family-style eating hall, which laid out the welcome mat for a second, Windsor-based offering to accompany the original Richmond eatery in March this year.
In addition to the paper menus, lollipop-coloured Jarrito sodas and familiar bottles of red salsa picante de chile habanero hot sauce that have become de riguer in Mexican joints around town, amigos can expect an expanded menu by chef Ravi Presser, with a heightened focus on homemade produce (fresh ingredients are sourced from the Vic Market and the bread is made daily at Abbotsford Convent's onsite bakery) and a similarly extended, loftier physical space.
The geometrically patterned, brightly coloured floor, visible kitchen and overhanging lights inspired by popular Mexican bar stools turned upside down are products of a collaboration between Techne Architects, Goldenhen Interiors and naturally, the sensibilities of Youl and McDonald. As the friends started Fonda with basically zero experience, they are always happy to ask for expert opinions where due, which McDonald sees as a major strength.
"Having no hospitality background has actually been a real blessing, because it means we're not too proud to ask for help and input. Fonda is a community, rather than the fulfillment of an ego trip and this filters down to how the menu is regularly tested on groups, to how the staff are treated — that is, as people," he explains.
Confirming this culture of inclusiveness, Youl later asks for my opinion on the positioning of the bar cushions with the earnest enthusiasm of someone who is actually interested in the answer. Rounding out our conversation, McDonald again individually personalises the experience that Fonda is trying to create by posing a question, the answer to which he goes on to confidently guess.
"What do our clientele want on a Wednesday night, for example? Hopefully to come to Fonda and leave thinking 'I ate some good food, met a cool waiter, sat on these weird seats fashioned from string and I really liked that song.'"
He got it in one — see you at the Fonda.