Mere metres from inebriated men, boisterous hens, the bustle and “bollocks!” shouts of The Quays Pub, sits The Chameleon, tucked around a corner of the maelstrom that is Temple Bar.
A stagger away from The Ha’Penny Bridge, this Indonesian restaurant is an oasis of calm in an otherwise turbulent neighbourhood. I visited the day after the “heightened” festivities of St Patrick’s Day. Would it be able to transport us away from Fair City to The Spice Islands of Indonesia?
Being Mother’s Day, I brought my mother Pauline along with me. Before you applaud me for my daughterly behaviour, let me remind you that Totally Dublin picks up the bill for these culinary outings. I did buy her some flowers earlier that day, so please don’t judge me too harshly.
Every available outdoor space of this modestly sized restaurant is covered in plaques and awards from very respected sources. Always a reassuring sign upon walking into a restaurant, the second is being greeted by perfectly friendly yet laid-back staff. We were shown to seats upstairs, which is the nicer of the two rooms as it really takes you away from Temple Bar. The downstairs room looks out onto the cobblestone lanes, lending itself to people watching which unfortunately is not always a good thing.
The Chameleon specialises in Rijst-Tafel or Rice Table, a way of serving Indonesian food that the colonialist Dutch came up with in and around the 1800s. It’s basically an Indonesian version of tapas, with various amounts of small portions of different dishes served up and shared. The Chameleon’s menu offers six variations of Rijst-Tafel ranging from beef-based to fish-based to vegetarian and offering between six to eight dishes in each. The prices range from €24 to €33 per person and there is one Risjt-Tafel that is designed especially for two people sharing and costs €58 per couple. There is also an early bird menu which has three Risjt-Tafel with four dishes each, for the reasonable sum of €16.95.
Mum being vegetarian went for the Vegetarian Rijst-Tafel (€26.50) while I chose the Early Bird Sea Rijst Tafel (€16.95). In the end we were presented with eleven dishes, as the beautifully crisp and fruity Asinan cucumber and mango salad appeared on both of our menus. Lovely as it was, we really didn’t need to have two of them as the other ten dishes nearly defeated us. Nearly.
We made our way through the Perkedel, a fluffy potato and chickpea cake with a dark brown and crisp batter drizzled with picked aubergine, which sat next to Sweet Potato Spring Rolls and their Spicy Mango Dip. There was the Red squash, courgette and bamboo curry and the stand out dish of the evening the Tempeh Satay whose peanut sauce was out of this world. My fish menu added Otak Otak crab cake to our table, which was one bursting ball of chilli and fish sauce infused flavour. The amazingly named Ikan Bakar Colo Colo was fresh haddock baked in a banana leaf which looked better than it tasted while the Nasi Udang wok-fried jasmine rice with shrimp and crispy shallots was the total opposite. It was a dull brown plate of wonderfully tasty rice. We both tucked in to the Sesame Fried seasonal greens, the Bami Goreng wok-fried noodles and the Nasi Kunig, a stunningly aromatic yellow fried rice. And just to make sure we didn’t leave hungry, there was some Jasmine rice on the side and a quartet of condiments including soy sauce, chilli sauce, crispy shallots and pickled vegetables.
We ate all of these slowly – the chopsticks helped in that respect – and although everything arrived almost at the same time, the atmosphere was never anything other relaxed and the staff left us alone as we ploughed through the plates of flavourful food in front of us. We even managed to share a dessert, and knocked back the Coconut and Cardamom Creme Brulée and its accompanying homemade cookie. Although it was enjoyable enough, it was slightly undersized and overpriced at €7. We sipped the delightfully light Ca’Morlin Italian Prosecco (€35) throughout our meal, a bottle of fizz which I will most certainly be keeping an eye out for in my local wine shop.
Certainly one of the best destinations in the city for non-meat eaters, it is a pleasure for omnivores as well. The atmosphere is soothing, the food is a taste discovery with the tapas-esque approach allowing you to try a myriad of different flavours. And it’s a fun way to eat, too.
We rolled ourselves out of The Chameleon, having said goodbye to €85.45 plus a good hefty tip. Back out in to the evening air and there, before us, was a man throwing up. A grown man, throwing up at the corner of the street, like he was having an angry disagreement with the ground. A reminder that despite our hidden haven for the last two hours, we were still in Temple Bar after all.
1 Lower Fownes Street