This venue has closed.
As the bricks of wretchedness
stack higher through the hutongs, ushering in a new post-shopfront era, few new places
are daring to open across the city until things settle down. Thankfully, new Fangjia fast-casual nook Antlers refuses to be bullied by the bricks.
Nested in a less-trodden section of the hutong that brought you such hits as Moxi Moxi
, Was Park
, Cellar Door
and that burrito place, Antlers peddles a concise offering of Taiwanese street food snacks, led by the guabao
, and has turned more than a few heads in its first few weeks of trade.
. We have to admit, the first time we saw a starburst guabao
hit Instagram some years ago we were concerned about where the internet was taking Chinese street food
. To our embarrassment, it was just Taiwan making mantou
great again. An impossibly soft, steamy bun is split down the middle and, traditionally at least, welcomes a generous endowment of pork belly, coriander, pickled veg and is topped with crushed peanuts. Done right, the guabao
tastes as delicious as it sounds; a cuddly companion on a moody Taipei night stroll.
Antlers is small. Bar stools and the outside table included, you’re looking at a 15 person capacity. The wall behind the bar is decorated with a respectable fleet of cool hooch, the fridge stocked with craft beer and cider. We’re worried about the size of the kitchen – not that one requires a paddock to assemble the palm-sized guabao, but there are performative restrictions to working in a shoebox.
The menu is simple, and as most of the menu items are guabao (22RMB each or three for 58RMB), we order some guabao. We also order a fried sticky rice ball, which is a) a textural symphony, saltdriven and oily, and b) completely recalibrates the purchasing power 15RMB holds in Gentrificationsville, Dongcheng. It bodes well for the main event, which arrives moments later and is, quite frankly, made for the screen. The presentation of each bao is spectacular, packed to the brim with pinks, reds and greens, and would be better served by less ambient lighting. We’d spend 22RMB just to get one on the mantelpiece.
The traditional pork belly number is a rich ode to the majesty of the swine and a reassurance that, when balanced with the acidity of something like these zesty pickled vegetables, eating pork belly doesn’t have to feel like a VPNs-on sex act. The red curry tofu is equally impressive, the creaminess of the coconut milk working with the marshmallow spring of the bao, making for comically easy chewing – a sensation that makes you feel like a happy infant. The beef and lamb editions both feature a tenderness that only hours of slow cooking can achieve, the lamb slightly on the more powerful, muttony side of the flavour equation – a very minor gripe.
The Kiwi-Taiwanese couple behind Antlers have delivered another on-trend, fast-casual space to Fangjia Hutong. But perhaps most notably, they’ve done it with a Tapei-grade professionalism and execution of concept – something that, for better or worse, was not synonymous with the neighbourhood prior. That’s not to devalue the grunge appeal of its upstreet neighbours, but for quality, atmosphere and affordability, Antlers is the new area benchmark.