A reinvention for Indonesian tapas in Temple Bar
What’s the story?
Indonesian-inspired Chameleon's been part of the fabric of Temple Bar for an incredible 25 years, and recently made the clever decision to do a bit of a brand update - they got a new logo, changed the outside of the restaurant from black to bright blue, and invested in a beautiful new spray-painted shutter. It's a shrewd move to stand out in a city that's currently seeing a record number of restaurant openings each month, and one that got them onto our hottest restaurants in Dublin list for March. We hadn't visited in a long time, and after a very well-eaten foodie told us they were "hitting all the right notes" when it came to Indonesian cooking we thought it was worth a visit.
Where should we go for a drink first?
The temptation is always there to dance into Oliver St. John Gogarty's and act like a tourist for an hour - you'll leave with a lighter wallet but a newly invigorated sense of national pride that only twee Irish music, aran jumpers and barely passable bowls of stew can summon up (but best to avoid the toilets if you can - €5 million a year in profit clearly isn't enough for a new paint job and some air freshener). Roberta's and The Liquor Rooms (below) do great cocktails, and for wine both Piglet and Loose Canon are within a 5 minute walk.
Where should we sit?
Upstairs all the way, ideally at the lower tables with the cushioned seating for the full experience. Anyone with a dodgy back or who likes proper tables and chairs can opt for the standard tables. There are more tables downstairs, but we don't think it has the same atmosphere or feel as the first floor.
What's good to eat?
The main part of the menu revolves around set menus that are either meat, fish or vegetable based, from €36 - €40 per person. There are also 'Asian Tapas', a lot of which are found on the various set menus. We thought it would be a good idea to get one Java (meat-based) and one Sumatra (fish based) to try as much as possible, but we hadn't realised that four of the seven dishes were the same on both (noodles, vegetables and a fish cake), so if we were choosing again we'd pick one set menu and other dishes from the Asian tapas section so that we could try more. The best thing we ate was probably the fish finger bao, with tiger prawn and squid katsu and sambal (a type of chilli sauce) in a homemade bao. Immediate regret for not having ordered all the bao.
Other highlights included the Sweet Sambal Udang - marinated prawns with pineapple and chilli mango sauce - which walked the line perfectly between sweet, savoury and sour, the Kari Java - a Javanese curry with braised shoulder of Wicklow lamb and sweet potato that was incredibly rich in flavour, and the sesame fried vegetables with sautéed onions and toasted sesame seeds, which managed to make cabbage addictive.
Both the crab cake with haddock and the chicken satay (props for using free-range) were enjoyable, and the beef rendang had great flavour but the meat could have been more tender. We weren't keen on the noodles which had an overpowering taste of molasses, and the salad with cucumber, mango and Chinese leaves could have done with having the dial turned up on the dressing - or maybe just needed more dressing.
A dessert of Kahlua and organic dark chocolate pannacotta with peanut brittle had the perfect wobble, and was a nice midway point between coffee and dessert, when your heart says espresso, but your head says it's too late, don't do it.
And the drinks?
The wine list is pretty compact, with half on tap and half in bottle. The advantage of those on tap is that they're available in small and large glasses, carafes and bottles, so everyone can drink what they want in exactly the amount they want, but we would have liked to see a few more options that would specifically compliment the food in either format, like off-dry Pinot Gris or Gewurztraminer. We drank the Hobo Workbook Californian red blend on tap which is a great all-rounder, and for white we would have gone for the Peter & Peter Riesling in bottle, a grape that tends to work well with Asian flavours.
And the service?
Really warm, and couldn't do enough for us. The only issue with the set menus is that everything comes at once, and it's a lot of food, so by the time we reached the end some of it was cold, but retrospectively if we had asked our lovely server to bring a few things first like the bao, satay and fish cake, we think she would have been more than happy to oblige. That would be the plan next time.
There are a lot of good flavours going on at Chameleon, and we kept thinking what a perfect place it is for group dining - bag one of the big tables upstairs, order all the food and a load of carafes of wine, and we're pretty sure everyone would leave happy. Keeping a restaurant open for 25 years is no mean feat, and keeping people talking about you for that long is even more difficult, but we think updating their image was just what was needed to put Chameleon back on Dublin diner's agendas.
1 Fownes Street Lower, Temple Bar, Dublin 2