Where: Fina’s 2, 339 Brunswick Street Fitzroy
What: A godsend when you belong to a couple where one is fructose-intolerant and the other is a picky vegetarian
Bloat score: 0 – Living the dream
When you can’t eat onion, garlic and wheat and you’re going out with a vegetarian who doesn’t like cheese (unless it’s on a pizza), an assortment of vegetables (including but not limited to: mushrooms, asparagus and beetroot) and any variation of soup, eating out is an ordeal. Fina’s 2 is one of the few places my partner will eat at without holding his breath with the bonus of not making me sick, which means it’s become one of our default favourites.
Fina’s 2 is a Vietnamese vegan restaurant in Fitzroy, with a sister restaurant called Fina’s located on Victoria Street in Richmond. It caters to almost every dietary intolerance and food preference, evidenced by its exhaustive glossary. VEG means pure vegetarian, Vegan means 100% vegan, and MSGF means MSG-free, although these are all superfluous labels as every dish on the menu is vegetarian, vegan and MSG-free. The ones that are relevant to a FODMAP-intolerant person are ‘OGF’, which means onion- and garlic-free, and ‘GF’, which means gluten-free.
Unlike Loving Hut where every dish is similarly labelled but you’ll find nearly all of them have onion and garlic, Fina’s 2 has many gluten-free options without onion and garlic.
Unable to enjoy an onion and garlic-free curry, save for when my mum cooks for me, I usually opt for Fina’s vegan curry with mock chicken and tofu. On this occasion, however, I ordered a soup to counteract the effects of a splitting headache (read: raging hangover). Fina’s 2’s menu is largely dominated by soups, and I decided to go for the Vietnamese vegan spicy noodle soup, which boasted a broth that had been cooked for more than 10 hours.
Rejoicing that I was dining with friends instead of someone who recoils at the mention of ‘wood ear fungus’, I ordered the vegan wonton and the vegan fish skewers to share.
It is just like me to disobey my intolerances in a place where it is easier to follow them than not, as I belatedly realised that the vegan wontons were not GF. But boy, were they good. An indiscernible mixture of crushed tofu, wood ear fungus, lettuce, coriander, carrot and taro was encased in crisp, perfectly fried pastry. The filling was reminiscent of the crushed prawns that you’d usually find in a regular wonton, which was impressive considering there was no fake meat in this dish.
‘Skewer’ turned out to be a misleading word in the next dish, because there was no sign of any such skewer, but the deep fried boxes did taste like fish, which blew my mind. As a devoted fan of fake meat, I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, but I still can’t fathom how a combination of soy, salt, sugar, starch, vegetable oil and vegan fish flavour results in something that tastes like a fishcake but doesn’t contain an ounce of animal protein.
My noodle soup was spicy and sour, with definite notes of tamarind lending itself to the slightly tangy flavour. This was a deceptively filling dish, with the generous proportions of firm tofu, slivers of mock beef and butter mushrooms soaking up the rich broth that they were submerged in. Best part was, not a hint of onion and garlic to be found.
My friend ordered the special vegan bamboo noodle soup, which was garnished with slices of smoky mock duck that had been deep-fried to perfection. We both sheepishly conceded that we preferred it to real duck, although I wouldn’t ever utter those words outside this safe space that is my personal blog. Her soup was lighter and creamier than mine, and her rice noodles were of a thinner variety.
My other friend took a chance with the vegan stuffed tofu filled with prawn, which came with a serve of steamed rice. The prawn filling wasn’t dissimilar to the vegan wonton filling, and the tofu was cooked in a lurid red tomato-based broth that went well with the plain rice. The blocks of tofu were rather large, however, and my friend struggled to finish her dish.
What I perhaps love most about Fina’s 2 is the individual commentary that accompanies each dish on the menu. The vegan stuffed tofu came with the disclaimer: “a nice and yummy dish, however it takes a lot of time and preparation to cook”, as if to discourage anyone who is audacious enough to think they could stuff their own tofu at home. A vegetable stir-fry with vegetable noodles is marketed as being “designed for people who like to have a heavy meal” while the special vegan fried rice is “suitable for both children and adults”.
Fina’s 2 is a quiet and unassuming eatery on a street that prides itself on its revelry and pomp, although its tables are never far from being fully occupied. It is comfort food to the highest degree, in a world where comfort food is often associated with meat and undoubtedly laced with onion and garlic.
Fina’s 2 is open from 11am to 10.30pm every day but Tuesday.