Chameleon, 1 Fownes Street Lower

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I had reserved a table for two at Chameleon about 3 weeks before February 14th, mainly because I didn’t want to be eating in MaccyD’s in my glad rags on Valentine’s day. Myself and Orlando had been drinking wine and champagne in our flat before nine, so when we arrived at the restaurant we were a bit messy, and very much in the mood for food. After a brief wait, we were guided by our waitress past three floors of lovers at candle-lit tables. We were seated on the top floor (the best one). It is called the Opium Room. The seats are just thick, velvet cushions with throw pillows for your back, and incense and ornate rugs on the walls. With Nouvelle Vague playing quietly in the background, we ate what must have been the biggest prawn cracker I have ever seen, and read our menus.

The Chameleon specialises in Indonesian Rijst-tafel dishes, which is basically between 6 and 9 taster dishes for a set price. Our waitress explained the whole system to us, and we both ordered the Vegetarian Rijst-tafel – one choice of six set menus, and their cheapest bottle of white wine (We had spent a lot on money on our champagne breakfast earlier that day)

Suddenly, as if an apparition, the waitress brought out our plates of Indonesian delights. It’s hard to know in which order to describe the dishes, so I’ll do it in the order I ate them, because in my most basic drunken state, it must have been the natural order of eating them.  The Nasi-Kunig – a chilli and onion fried yellow rice, was what I had expected. It was just a perfect bowl of fragrant rice, and I foolishly ate it in small mouthfuls to make it last, but finally got too full and couldn’t finish it. The Asinan was a salad of melon, chinese leaves, cucumber and black sesame dressing. It felt more like a dessert because it was so sweet, but worked perfectly to cool down my mouth from some of the more spicy dishes that followed. Next was a crispy, breaded hard boiled egg roll, with a tomato salsa. I’m actually not an egg fan, but it brought both sweet and savoury flavours together, and I ended up eating some of Orlando’s too. I was a bit disappointed, though, because the menu listed a fried banana, but it was replaced by the egg that night. That was annoying, because fried banana is my favourite, and I like having pudding to finish a meal.

Now, the next dish was what stood out to me on the menu the most when I first read it. The Sweet Potato Spring Roll was amazing. The thin pastry was crispy and savoury – the filling was a perfect, light blend of sweet potato chunks, thai basil  and coriander with a spicy mango dip. There were four spring rolls on the plate and I kept wanting more. They tasted really good alongside the condiments we were given too – pickled vegetables, chili tomato dip, and dried coconut with spices.  The variety of flavours in front of us was amazing – the Tempeh Satay tasted like nothing I’ve ever had before- like a peanut falafel, skewered and served on a bed of caramelised vegetables with a creamy, satay sauce. That was Orlando’s favourite dish on the menu, while mine was the Perkedel;  a potato and chickpea cake cooked with banana  shallots, celery, curry and Padang leaves served witha pickled aubergine mayonnaise which had the same consistency of a korma/coconut sauce. Unbelievable. All of the above dishes were served with wok-fried noodles and vegetables, and savoy cabbage toasted in sesame oil.

By the time we have finished our meal, both of us were clutching our stomachs and mumbling about how it was the best meal we’ve ever had. I couldn’t even stand up by myself afterwards- I don’t know if that was the fault of the food or the day’s wine. We lay on the pillows for about 20 minutes after we were done, just digesting and bickering about who sang the song that was being played- Prince or Michael Jackson. We eventually asked for the bill, were given little chocolates in the shape of hearts and stumbled onto the streets feeling both satisfied and exhausted at the same time. The meal was incredible value for the extraordinary amount we ate, the service was excellent, but the atmosphere of the restaurant was what made it the most special. I felt so comfortable and at home there, and I’m definitely going back with a pair of elastic-waisted trousers.

Vegetarian Rijst-tafel (8 dishes) – €30

White Wine – €20

Link: www.chameleonrestaurant.com

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