One day between running close-of-estate errands on my recent month-long stay in Melbourne, my father took me to have a meal at Food Republik in Box Hill. Situated within the main shopping centre Centro Box Hill, Food Republik is just off the main food court and is essentially a mini food court itself that offers mainly Taiwanese-inspired street-style hawker food.
When you approach Food Republik, the first thing you see is the giant modern lit up sign, pointing the way to wards culinary delight. Like many other restaurants (Chef’s Gallery and Mamak in Sydney are examples), Food Republik has chosen to place their best kitchen staff in the front window so that they create hundreds and hundreds of perfect dumplings under the watchful eyes of the permanent queue of people outside waiting for a table. It’s a real drawcard and plays to the ‘authentic street food’ vibe that they’re aiming for – surely you would see ladies like this on the street in Taiwan, making dumplings in exactly the same way?
As my father and I made our way into the dining area and sit down, a waitress brought us a pad and pen with a menu – you actually write down your order yourself here, marking the number of the dish you’ve chosen, on the pad. They have even provided a space for special requirements – for example, someone could order a vegetarian dish, and specify “no tofu” or “no bean sprouts”. It’s a very diner-friendly system!
The menus are really large, and has been separated into different sections, under different ‘restaurant’ names. There’s “Crystal Jade Xiao Long Bao”, “Taiwan Cafe”, “Chef Tao’s Bento Kitchen”, and many more. This actually works really well, as the owners are able to organise an incredibly diverse menu into categories that best fit – diners too, can flip straight to the section with the food they want to eat.
We started with the pork dumplings in hot and sour noodle soup. The dumplings were huge, with six large dumplings in the bowl serving almost as a meal in itself! The soup was tasty and really hearty though not as ‘hot’ as I tend to prefer. I needed to add a health dash of pepper to ramp up the spice in the soup.
Move over KFC Popcorn Chicken, you’ve been replaced! This was a really great rice box, with a good mix of carb, veggie and protein. While I would personally have preferred more veggies, the popcorn chicken was tasty and ‘zingy’ enough to make me forget about silly things like a balanced meal and healthy eating.
This is a fantastic dessert option for those people like my father who don’t really have a sweet tooth. The peanut snow ice is refreshing, fantastically textured, and subtly flavoured, with the black sesame and crushed peanut on top providing most of the flavouring. It’s a very subtle dessert that doesn’t try too hard to impress, but manages to satiate and satisfy.
Overall, I rate Food Republik an 8 out of 10. The food was tasty, service was efficient, if not all that friendly, and there’s a fantastic lively atmosphere in the joint that stems from the unique idea of serving Taiwanese street food in a mini food court.