A CHINESE chef has upset council leaders after naming his restaurant the Fat Buddha.

Durham City Council has written to Eddie Fung asking him to change the name, after saying it would offend Buddhists.

But Mr Fung, who was born in Hong Kong and is a Buddhist himself, said: "No Buddhist is going to be offended by the term. The Fat Buddha is a sign of health and happiness back in China."

Mr Fung, 38, who came to Britain when he was 17 and built up a chain of restaurants in Northern Ireland, has been backed by Buddhist leaders over his explanation.

He said: "I was very surprised when I was told about the complaint.

"I don't want to offend anyone, let alone other Buddhists. I just want to run a restaurant."

Tracey Ingle, the council's head of Cultural Services, stood by comments she made in the letter to Mr Fung, although she admitted the council was powerless to remove the sign.

She said: "I think it has an impact on the reputation of the city.

"The particular restaurant is in a very prominent position and I asked them to consider changing the name.

"I don't want this completely blown out of proportion. I have made my views clear.

"We are always willing to continue to talk to the business owner about the possibility of changing the name."

In her original letter to Mr Fung, Ms Ingle said: "I have to say, in my view, the name is provocative.

"To use the name of a major religion's deity in your restaurant brand runs contrary to this city's reputation as a place of equality and respect for other's views and religious beliefs."

Chueh Yann, director of the Fo Guang Buddhist Temple in London, said: "Buddhists are not easily-offended.

"The Fat Buddha that you often see is not the real Buddha. He is a Chinese tradition.

"In China, fat symbolizes happiness. If you see someone who is fat, it just means they have got enough to eat."

A spokesman for the Buddhist Society said: "Buddhists regard the Fat Buddha as lucky. He is a bit like a Friar Tuck figure."

Earlier this year, Mr Fung opened his first Fat Buddha restaurant in Belfast, offering Chinese and other Asian food, without any complaints about the name.

His company, Utopian Leisure, is investing £1.3m in the Durham development, in the Walkergate complex, which will employ about 60 people and is due to open later this month.

There are now about 350 million Buddhists in the world, including more than 150,000 in Britain. The Buddha is not considered a god by his followers and is not worshipped.