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freddie & tanah gourmet joyThe Dominion Rd area of Auckland has developed into an exciting strip of Asian restaurants however it can be daunting for non-Asians. Where to go? What to eat? What to avoid? With their offering of “Chinatown” tours, cooking adventures, and pop up banquets, Tanah Jane Dowdle and Freddie Sy of Gourmet Joy can help.

This pair of long-time foodies have banded together and, after many eating expeditions, developed strong relationships with the dumpling joints, restaurants, tea houses and bakeries along the strip.

I attend a pop up banquet to welcome in the Year Of The Snake. It’s held upstairs in the San Bao, which specialises in spicy Szechuan dishes. Tanah and Freddie have worked closely with the chef on a seven-course menu that also incorporates some fun aspects of Chinese culture.

We start with Shanghai Susie cocktails and incense burning at the altar. On each table there is a beautiful Yusheng Good Fortune salad made up of sliced raw fish, wonton crisps, preserved turnip, peanuts and vegetables. Once it’s dressed with a sprinkling five spice and some sesame sauce the entire table performs the “prosperity toss” with their chopsticks.

The courses that follow blend street-food with regional dishes. Standouts for me are  tofu cooked in a rich abalone masterstock and a whole fish drenched in a sauce richly flavoured with spices and filled with black fungi and soy noodles. There are also dumplings, duck pancakes, a chilled chicken dish, sizzling eggplant, pickles, zingy chilli and soybean sauces plus matching wines included.

Freddie and Tanah buzz round the tables explaining the dishes and between courses teach us to tell our fortune using Chinese divination blocks. This is a very social event as well as a pleasurable food experience. You could go with a group of friends or attend alone (as I did) and feel completely comfortable.

The Chinese New Year banquet cost $79 a head. Keep an eye on Gourmet Joy’s Facebook page and website for further events. (