Bite sized Ballarat: Fu Man Lou

THERE were whispers about "that new dumpling place" in Ballarat well-before the restaurant opened its doors in May. 

Two months on and Fu Man Lou is still the talk of the town. Kara Irving explains. 

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A TUNE by Marvin Gaye is heard from across the bar at Fu Man Lou. 

It's a quiet Tuesday afternoon post-lunch service and kitchen staff are starting to clean up and wind down. 

Manager Justin McKay is clearing tables and scooting in and out of the kitchen ahead of our interview. 

Much like Gaye's Got to Give It Up, Ballarat's newest food destination delivers some serious funk.

A highlighted neon pink sign hangs from the bar, comic book tear sheets are plastered on the white stone walls and a Chinese proverb is chalked on the blackboard at the front door.

A part of Melbourne arrived on Ballarat's doorstep in May, but was the cold, old town ready for the golden-dumpling rush? 

"We didn't expect it to be that popular," McKay said. 

"The first day was crazy, there were only a three of us on the floor." 

It did not take long before news about the Camp Street dumpling-den spread around town. 

The phones were running hot all day, with people requesting tables via email and social media sites Facebook and Twitter. 

"Everyone thought you could only book via email. That isn't the case," McKay said. 

"You can actually get a seat and walk-ins are welcome." 

As quick as news spread about Ballarat's newest restaurant, feedback from diners began trickling onto social media. 

"We have copped a bit on Urban Spoon," McKay said. 

"But there has been plenty of positive feedback, as well as the negative." 

"With the good, you have the bad."

McKay said co-owner and head chef Guo "Ryan" Dong prepares and cooks dumplings fresh daily, which can take time during busy lunch and dinner rushes. 

"It is made fresh on the day," Dong says. 

"We make the dough ourselves." 

Dong grew up in Shandong Province, about 430 kilometres south of Beijing. 

He learned the craft of making dumplings in his grandma's kitchen. 

"I kept cooking when I was growing up," he said.

"I learned cutting skills with the knife and began cooking for my parents."

After working in a few Chinese kitchens as an adult, Dong trekked to Australia to study a hospitality management course in 2008. 

He notched up experience in Melbourne's China Town Restaurant Shark Fin House before moving to Ballarat.

In 2011, he landed a gig at Golden City Hotel, alongside future business partner and Ballarat-restaurateur Simon Coghlan. 

"Simon knew opening a restaurant was a dream of mine," he said.

"I learned cutting skills with the knife and began cooking for my parents." - Guo "Ryan" Dong

"So he gave me a chance and we spoke about opening this business." 

The concept was simple: Fu Man Lou would provide Ballarat with a fun, unique, dumpling experience. 

The seven types of dumplings would be handmade and prepared fresh.

Old-school favourites Mongolian lamb, black bean and chilli beef and lemon chicken are on the menu. 

Dong, Coghlan and his wife, TV personality Gorgi Coghlan, began work on the restaurant last year. 

McKay, a former Mount Clear College student, leads a young team, at just 19. 

"We are trying to have a vision of a Melbourne dumpling place, with a young, modern environment." 

"They wanted to bring something exciting to Ballarat...something Ballarat hasn't seen before." 

It seems their hard work has is paying off. 

Comedian and TV personality Peter Helliar recently made an impromptu visit to Fu Man Lou to surprise his The Project co-star. 

"I thought, I know that guy from somewhere," McKay said, when he spotted Helliar walking from his car. 

"I could not think of his name, then it hit me and I got nervous." 

"I was like, everyone be cool."

Conversations in the Twitterverse also suggest former Circle star Chrissie Swan may be stopping by shortly.

"We will just have to wait and see," McKay said.

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