1 Main Street
Box Hill VIC 3128
+61 9898 6669
I don’t have an aversion to Australia remaining a constitutional monarchy (sorry, Malcolm) but if becoming republic means having easy access to places such as newly minted Food Republik in Box Hill, then I might just be convinced to vote ‘YES’ in the next referendum.
The beauty about living so close to Box Hill is having all these Cantonese, Korean and Taiwanese restaurants reasonably nearby. So when I heard that Singaporean chain Food Republik – with its famous Crystal Jade xiaolongbao dumplings – was opening up at Box Hill Central, I was excited.
Owned by the same guy who runs Taiwan Café on Swanston Street and Dessert Story, Food Republik in Box Hill replicates the mini Taiwanese food court-style eatery that’s popular in Singapore. The best thing about this arrangement is that there are five places to choose from: Crystal Jade Xiao Long Bao, Shihlin Café Taiwan Street Snacks, Old Tong Beef Noodles, Shin Yeh Restaurant and Toast Box. There is even a Taiwan Cafe and a Dessert Story in the mix. As a result, the menu is very extensive – this was NOT a banana republic.
With Daisy in tow, we made our way there after work one evening. This place gets notoriously busy so you’re either advised to come really, really early or just after the dinner rush. Hell, we rocked up just after 5:30pm and we were lucky just to even get a table!
Having been there twice already, Daisy was already a veteran diner so she knew the drill. You’re seated in the middle of very small food court space and while you’re gawking at all the individual stalls around you, the waiters slap down some menus and you’re left to choose from literally hundreds of dishes. Once you’ve made your choices (not an easy process, I tell you), you grab the pen and pad provided on your table to note down your dishes before giving them to the waiter.
While Daisy ordered the barley and grass jelly drink ($3.30), I had a glass of cold soy milk and grass jelly ($3.90). Given that it had been pretty warm that day, this drink was a godsend.
We shared a few starters. The first one was a serving of Taiwanese style popcorn chicken ($7.50), which came highly recommended by Daisy. Upon initial inspection, they were very similar to the ones I had at Taiwan Cafe on Swanston Street. Given that the owner of said cafe also owns Food Republik, this was no surprise. What DID surprise me, though, was that the chicken at Food Republik tasted a lot better. The chicken was more tender, the batter was crispier and the whole thing less oily. The salt and pepper seasoning in this incarnation was also a lot tastier. Two thumbs up.
The Taiwanese beef noodle soup with soya egg ($10.50) was another dish that came me déjà vu – yes, another Taiwan Cafe staple. Again, this version was better than the city counterpart – the beef slices were thicker, neater and more flavoursome. The broth was also tastier, though both Daisy and I agreed that a little extra spice wouldn’t have hurt. I’d go The Booth’s Taiwanese noodle soup over these any day.
Next, we had the Taiwanese-style pork belly burgers ($6.50). Melburnians might be enjoying a bao wave at the moment, but the Taiwanese have been enjoying these buns-slash-burgers-slash-tacos for years now – and I don’t blame them. A fluffy steamed bun was filled with a slab of soya marinated pork belly, pickled boy choy, crushed peanuts and coriander. It was magnificent. I particularly liked that the crushed peanuts were slightly sweet and salty at the same time, giving the bun a bit of umami for lack of better word.
My favourite dish, however, would have to be the xiaolongbao dumplings from the Crystal Jade stall. We ordered a steamer filled with four pork soup dumplings for $5.80. They were amazing. Each dumpling arrived in front of us perky and taut. The dumplings skins were thin without being flimsy and the filling – both pork and broth – was full of flavour, with the slightest hint of sweetness. They easily rivalled Hu Tong when it came to xiaolongbaos and I kind of wished I was greedier and went for the eight-er for $10.50
It didn’t look like we ordered a lot to share between two (one ‘main’ and a few little dishes) but we did struggle to finish everything. I had planned to order a sweet toast from Toast Box for dessert but it turned out that I didn’t even have enough room for THAT. Oh well, next time.
The bill worked out to be just under $20 per head which I thought was very reasonable, given how happy we were with the food. The service may have been a bit ditzy (they got Daisy’s drink wrong, for example) but they were lightning fast. I’m not sure why this place gets a lot of thumbs down; I know a lot of people were expecting it to be mind-blowing just like the Food Republik restaurants in Singapore only to find that the food isn’t as good. I can certainly understand where they’re coming from (Pancake Parlour and La Porchetta, for example, are rubbish in Jakarta) but coming from someone who’s only experienced Taiwanese food in Melbourne, I’d say that this is pretty good. Referendum, please!