Food Republik

Gua Bao, a Taiwanese-style pork belly burger.
Gua Bao, a Taiwanese-style pork belly burger. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones

1 Main Street Box Hill, Victoria 3128

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Opening hours Daily 11am-9.30pm
Features Vegetarian friendly
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Payments Cash
Phone 03 9898 6669

SNACKS ARE KING IN TAIWAN AND Food Republik is the booty call: juicy, thin-skinned xiao long bao; brown-bottomed fried dumplings; beef noodle soups; wok-tossed stir-fries and sweet brioche toast for afternoon tea.

Malaysian David Loh and Taiwanese Louis Kuo have created an enormously fun concept restaurant designed to replicate a typical Asian hawker market. It's cool, like an ultra-glam food court, and it's a hit with young families, the student set and couples on a fast, low-fuss date.

Six stalls - including Crystal Jade Dumpling, Old Tong's Beef Noodle and Dessert Story - are clustered in one double-decker, mezzanine space, with the separate menus collated into one big book. Fill out the order slip at the table and the bandanna-wearing staff will collect it and do the legwork for you.

Food Republik is like an ultra-glam food court.
Food Republik is like an ultra-glam food court. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones

The food is predominantly Taiwanese but with Malaysian-style drinks and some classic Chinese dishes, such as quivering ma po tofu (chilli minced pork and silken tofu) wafting with Sichuan pepper.

As you'd expect, there's noodle soup - Taipei hosts the International Beef Noodle Festival each year and it's regarded as a national dish.

This one is made from Kuo's mum's recipe, the broth brewed for eight hours with star anise, ginger, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper and apple to give it sweetness. It's poured over springy noodles, then sliced beef is added, plus spring onions and herbs. And do try the optional soya egg, a bouncy hard-boiled number marinated for 24 hours in soy and sugar and spices; the darker the heart, the better the flavour, and this one was lovely and brown. If only the broth were hot, not tepid, this dish would have been great, not just good.

Beef noodle soup with soya egg at Food Republik.
Beef noodle soup with soya egg at Food Republik. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones

Kuo's mum is also responsible for the gua bao, a Taiwanese-style pork-belly burger, the braised meat wrapped in spongy bread with bitey pickled cabbage, coriander and sugared, crushed peanuts - it's all sorts of yum.

Dumplings, too, are a speciality, but Koh says Republik's distinguishing feature is the thin skins. Xiao long bao fillings include prawn and Chinese melon (when available), minced pork, and pork and blue swimmer crab - a refined take without an overpowering seafood blast.

On the downside: there is only one toilet and it needed a clean when I was there.

Queues can be long but are generally fast-moving. When the liquor licence goes through, Republik will be licensed and BYO.

I like Food Republik: it's a bargain, the food's good, and it's a hoot.

Do … Marvel at how organised Food Republik is after only four months
Don't …Try to book; it's no-bookings
Dish … Gua bao, a Taiwanese-style pork-belly burger
Vibe … Traditional-meets-modern fun