I'm a Melbourne girl, born and bred, and new resident of Geelong. Fantabulous adventures await as I explore my gorgeous new city and the stunning Surf Coast. But don’t worry—I’ll be crossing the bridge regularly to get my Melbourne fix.
Published October 20th 2015
Into the valley of delicious dumplings
I could eat dumplings every day of my life and never get sick of them. I go rather crazy over the steaming morsels of deliciousness, and heaven help you if there's a bamboo basket of them between you and me at a restaurant table—you'll be hard-pressed to beat me to them. I've eaten dumplings at Chinatown precincts in New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Toronto, Vancouver, and Sydney and of course in Melbourne, but never as far out in the outer eastern suburbs as Upper Ferntree Gully. Until now.
Lilly in the Valley Chinese Dumpling Restaurant and Tea House opened just over three months ago, and was recommended to me by a friend who stumbled upon it by chance. The restaurant is tiny, and is located just near the Maxi Foods supermarket in the Ferntree Plaza shopping centre (just across Burwood Highway from Upper Ferntree Gully train station). I will be forever grateful for the recommendation, otherwise I may never have come across it—and that is a thought too horrible to bear.
The restaurant is run by the lovely Lilly (who grew up in the area) and her husband, and is the result of a lifelong dream of Lilly's. Her vision was to bring the simple pleasures of dumplings and tea to the residents of the Dandenong Ranges, and to share her love for fresh, traditional Chinese cuisine to the local residents of Ferntree Gully and surrounds. And she is most certainly succeeding—our night at Lilly in the Valley was one of the most enjoyable meals out we've had in a while.
What the restaurant lacks in size, it makes up for in atmosphere, décor and Lilly's effervescent and friendly personality. Booth seating lines the side wall in soft dark brown leather, with tables in equally dark brown and matching chairs on the other side of the tables. The opposite wall is patterned with mosaic-look tiles, dark brown shelving and an array of traditional Chinese vases. The darling restaurant is filled with fresh flowers, and sprigs of lavender in glass jars adorn each table.
The restaurant is warm and welcoming and the seats are very comfy!
We immediately felt welcome as soon as we walked in the doors, and Lilly directed us to our table with a warm and gracious smile. Menus, water and glasses were brought to our table as soon as we sat down, and we had a few moments to take in the modern, yet cosy, surroundings. The whole restaurant was spotlessly clean, and Lilly's loving touches are dotted throughout the place (including sign at the front counter proclaiming that their "kitchen is seasoned with love"—and I truly believe that it is!).
The restaurant is filled with Lilly's loving touches.
We placed our order, and I felt like I could settle back into the booth for hours as we waited in anticipation for our dumplings to arrive. Our water was refilled as it became empty, and whilst we were the only patrons dining in, the take away orders were flying out the door. We stared hungrily at the white plastic bags and containers as they were tucked under the arms of those picking up their orders, and watched as Lilly compassionately served a gentleman who had perhaps fallen upon hard times recently and was a little short on cash for his order of steamed dim sims.
It wasn't too long a wait, and our plates of steaming dumplings arrived. We'd ordered a serve of steamed chicken and prawn dumplings, and feeling a little wild, a serve of pan-fried pork and vegetable dumplings also. There were 10 each in a serve, and came served up on matching plates with delicate blue and yellow flowers festooned on the edges. Little black dishes of soy sauce, chilli sauce and black vinegar (no grubby, sticky, drippy bottles here) accompanied our order, and despite the steam emanating from both plates, we dug in hungrily. And my oh my, they were delicious. I started with the chicken and prawn, which were plump and full of tender meat, wrapped in soft pastry just the right thickness (with a bit of chewiness, but not too stodgy).
I tucked into the steamed dumplings first...and I wasn't disappointed.
I tore myself away from the steamed dumplings to indulge in the pan-fried pork dumplings, and it was tough to say which ones were better. The pork was laced with light touches of fresh green vegetables, encased in the same delicious pastry, and fried lightly golden with just a bit of crunch to add a bit of texture to the whole experience. The sauces were almost superfluous as both dumplings were as good as perfect as they were, but I dipped the odd one here and there into the soy sauce just because the sauce dishes looked so pretty!
The pan-fried dumplings were equally as delicious, and VERY more-ish.
I would have been content to simply continue to dine on dumplings for the remainder of the evening, but given the range of items on the tempting menu, we couldn't resist and ordered a couple of main dishes as well. After our empty plates of dumplings were whisked away, Lilly asked us if we were ready for our mains to be prepared—which was a nice change from having everything brought out to you in one hit, giving some time for our dumplings to settle a little, and just to sit and relax a while.
The take away trade continued steadily as we waited for our mains, and a biggish group of dine-in patrons also made their way into the restaurant. The tiny restaurant was certainly abuzz by the time the rest of our food arrived, and we enjoyed our BBQ Pork with Seasonal Vegetables and Gown Pao Chicken listening and watching as Lilly and her capable and friendly staff took orders, served up more delicious food, and greeted customers like old friends.
Our pork dish was full of generous slices of tender pork, and our chicken dish was spicy with chillies and fresh vegetables.
If tea is your temptation, there's a full range of Tea Tonic organic herbal tea on offer at Lilly in the Valley—the perfect accompaniment to dumplings. Tea Tonic is naturally formulated, is made and owned in Australia, and uses only the freshest of herbs of the highest quality—just another way Lilly and her team are committed to providing you with a traditional Chinese dining experience that is filled with passion and love.
A full range of Tea Tonic is available at Lilly in the Valley - perfect to sip on with a plate of dumplings in front of you.
Upper Ferntree Gully may not be your typical location for a tea house and dumpling restaurant, but with its wide menu, welcoming décor and a fabulous host at the helm, Lilly in the Valley is exactly what the area needs. Whether it's a casual dinner out, a fast take away pick-up order, or to indulge in the Sunday all-you-can-eat dumpling lunch (oh yes, please…book me in now), please come and give Lilly in the Valley a try. You won't be disappointed, and Lilly will be as happy to see you as you will be once you're digging into the delicious dumplings...seasoned with love.
I am so glad she opened up here. So close to home and I just can't get enough of my crystal prawn dumplings!!!. Lily always has a smile for you as soon as you walk in the door!.. Love love love this place.. My little gem in the hills :)