Peace and tranquillity seep through you the second you step inside ZOZO Asian Street Food on The Strand, when you instantly get the feeling that this is a place to unwind and let go of the stresses of everyday life.
The outdoor courtyard has an abundance of leafy green foliage and inside there are beautiful water features, statues, colourful umbrellas of all sizes decorating the walls, lanterns and statues which give an instant sense of serenity.
This ambience makes you immediately feel relaxed. We settle into the corner against a window where we enjoyed the scent of exotic spices and a running water feature that almost made us believe there was a tropical rainstorm outside.
We are so excited to look at the menu created by Vietnamese chef Tung Tien. The menu is an array of traditional and creative Asian cuisine combined with an exciting drink or two, lovingly mixed by manager Ashwinta (Ashi) Rao and her team.
Ashi loves to create a cocktail and all the drinks on the menu are designed in house. She says that combined with a bite to eat, it's a great way for people to gather with friends and spend quality time.
We say yes to that, and try the Vietnamese Espresso Martini (Vietnamese Coffee, Vodka and Kahlu), the Hue Breeze (tequila, blue Curaçao, lime and pineapple juice) and the Berry Mojito (rum, blueberry syrup, mints, lemon, dry cranberry).
The Berry Mojito was my personal favourite. The berry flavour with rum, mints, lemon and dried cranberries was a divine combination. It transported me right to the streets of Asia where you can get refreshing mint tea. It was just the right mix of sweet-and-sour.
If you like tequila, the bright blue Hue breeze served with salt round the edges is a sweet take on the margarita. As soon I tasted it, it's another winner. inventive and colourful take on the margarita. Love it.
The ZOZO Asian Street Food menu is made for sharing explains Ashi. Street food means you can have as little or as much as you like. The idea is that diners don't order their own separate appetisers and main course.
Everything that people select off the menu goes in the centre of the table for everyone to dig in. So you and your group get to sample food from different parts of Asia in one memorable feast.
While fully trained in pure traditional Vietnamese cooking, what Tung and his team create at ZOZO Asian Street Food is exciting Asian fusion food. So what is exactly Asian fusion?
When Chef Tung was studying to be a chef in his home country Vietnam he was also inspired by the flavours, herbs and spices and cooking styles from many different parts of Asia such as Thailand, Singapore and Korean.
It's his unique presentation of the different flavours of Southeast Asia that you get a taste of and the raving reviews on TripAdvisor are a testament of just how special it is.
The restaurant brings us a fabulous introduction to the street food of Asia. The region is popular as a travel destination and demand for this delicious food is growing. I am thrilled these unique flavours and dishes are available in Tauranga.
Food just kept coming out, and the array of appetisers was outstanding. We devoured the soft crab whose meat just melted in the mouth, and the Banh Xeo (Vietnamese pancake) gave us a light fluffy feeling inside with with delicate taste of egg whites, zesty Korean pickle, and generously packed with juicy plump prawns.
For mains we dived into the duck - perfectly cooked it just falls off the bone and coupled with the sauce it is divinely rich and perfectly cooked, as was the succulent pork belly - a dish so difficult to get right but Tung delivered it to perfection.
My personal fave is the flaming coconut prawn - a spectacular dish literally on fire on presentation. Not only is it a spectacular sight with the flames, the prawns and sauce are a hot combination in taste too. Definitely recommend.
Another stand out is the special sauce. Its secret ingredients are skillfully created by Tung. I love a secret and I love sauce.
You can ask for it as hot as you like or not. Guests are always asking for more says Ashi.
Try it and you will see why. If you have room left for some dessert, try the mango sago.
It's the perfect finish.