CHINA REPUBLIC | FOOD REVIEW

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With its dark, sophisticated ambiance and decor, China Republic was a beautiful place to dine - a place that intersected modern lines with historical decor, from the terracotta warrior replicas guarding the doors to the Chinese umbrella spokes decorating the ceiling. Though thoughtfully and beautifully presented, the taste of dishes ranged from excellent to mediocre and the nature of the tables and lighting means the place is best suited for small, intimate dining arrangements.

(Note: Their menu is not available online so I can only approximate a name for most of the dishes)

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, China Republic is definitely not the place for the Chinese family dinner in the most traditional sense, for all that it claims to embody the Chinese culture - the interior is heavy on the rectangular table arrangement and open plan seating that left us in the middle of the room with other diners. The place was poorly equipped for the complex dish sharing and movement needed to accommodate nine people in Chinese dining, especially as two guests were under five. Unfortunately, their bao fang (private rooms) were closed for the night - otherwise, we may have had a slightly easier experience.

The extremely dim room with only a few spotlights on the table also made it extremely hard to take photos of either food or people and hard to even see some of them.

On the plus side, we had a very accommodating waitress who took care of our table. The dishes came promptly and many of them all at once, unfortunately. A combination of too many orders (in true Chinese family style) and narrow tables meant our table was practically overflowing.

The dishes were universally impeccable in presentation - artfully arranged on truly fascinating tableware. Unfortunately, it didn't translate into universally mindblowing dishes.

The 'okay but nothing special dishes' included the vegetable spring roll, which had the same sauce as the Peking Duck. The spring rolls themselves were nicely fried but nothing particularly special in terms of taste. The green sauce dish was succulent chicken breast coated in a tangy, spicy sauce.

Meatballs were only so-so in terms of flavour but were well fried - crispy on the outside and crumbly inside. I wasn't a fan of the cup tofu - it was a little underseasoned. The light spring onion flavour works well with the textural contrast of the caviar.

I loved the green dumplings - perfectly soft and delicious skin with a lightly seasoned mushroom filling. Particularly commendably, the vinegar sauce was a perfect complement, instead of an overpowering imposition of flavour. The scallop was delicious - tender and seasoned just right with a light touch of soy sauce and spring onion. The salt and pepper fried calamari was another standout - delicate, light with an almost tempura-like batter. The oyster mushrooms were also great - tender and not overly oily.

Apparently China Republic is most famous for its Peking Duck. I have to say that the presentation for this Peking Duck is the best I've seen - every person gets a special dish of seasoning (the pickles tasted like the ones in McDonalds' Big Macs) and the dish comes with two different types of pancake to wrap the duck in. The sauce was a little runny but was actually easier to spread. The pocket-style pancake was a bit dry and heavy - I definitely prefer the traditional pancake.

I've been fortunate to taste reputable Peking Duck in Beijing. The skin for this duck was very good - crisp and melt-in-your-mouth but, unfortunately, the meat was quite dry, lean and had a comparatively strong 'meaty' aftertaste to it. Perhaps we just got a bad duck but it was a tad disappointing.

(pro tip: Dip the duck skin into white sugar and just eat it straight. Heavenly)

China Republic also does a lamb twist on the 'Peking Duck' style pancake. I'm not convinced the pancake works as well with the lamb because the lamb, by nature, is slightly stringy and dry already.

I have to commend China Republic for their drinks - this grape and kiwi drink was extremely refreshing though quite acidic, like someone liquified sour gummy worms. I also tried the Yum Yum (yes, that's the name), which tasted like Yakult, fused with fruity flavours.

Overall, China Republic is definitely an interesting aesthetic experience, which deftly handles some iconic Chinese cuisine, though it didn't quite manage to do its signature dish justice. It is, however, an experience best enjoyed quietly with a small party of friends or a significant other. No classic, rowdy, extended-family events here.

Upper Level, World Square Shopping Centre
680 George St, Sydney