Chameleon is one of those restaurants that seems to have been around forever. It’s a stalwart on the Dublin dining scene and consistently serves up quality food, full of flavour and cooked with confidence. Established in 1994 by husband and wife team Kevin and Carol O’Toole, it’s an admirable feat that Chameleon is not only surviving but thriving. In this climate where we regularly see restaurants shutting up shop after short stints on the scene, its longevity is a sign that this Temple Bar venue is doing something right.
Two friends and I, dropped by Chameleon for a spur of the moment meal. Between the three of us, we can more than eat our fill so the sharing style menus were perfect, and we ordered a few Asian tapas too. In this intimate and cosy restaurant, you’ll find contemporary Indonesian food with Asian tapas as well as Irish craft beers and a good wine list.
The Beef Rendang (€9.95) was an instant hit around the table. This spicy short rib had soft and tender pieces of beef that melted in the mouth, with punchy spices inspired by dishes from Western Sumatra. Although it packed a punch, it wasn’t overly hot and even the spice wary at the table enjoyed the dish.
The Javanese Short Rib of Beef was another stellar dish. The beef fell off the bone and was coated in a rich sauce with hums of spice, that didn’t overpower the meat. Otak Otak Pipeh (€9.95) was the next Asian delight. Crab cakes made with haddock, Asian herbs, ginger, garlic and chillies in a panko crumb were a pleasure to eat. Served with a sweet chilli mango dip, perfectly complimenting the flavoursome cakes.
Hands down, my favourite dish of the night was the Perkedel. Usually, my highlights of any meal are centred around meat dishes but this mighty little plate stole my heart (I’m still trying to get Kevin to give me the recipe for these heavenly bites). Potato, chickpea and carrot, with banana shallots, curry and pandang leaves are combined into deep fried cakes that are then smothered with the most delicious pickled aubergine mayonnaise you can find. I’ve come back to Chameleon again for this dish alone and haven’t been disappointed. It’s also vegan-friendly and makes me think, if vegan food can taste this good, I’m on board.
One type of bao is never enough, so we ordered the Buttermilk Chicken Bao (€11.00), “Fish Finger” Bao (€11.00), and the Pork Bao (€11.50). Free range chicken thigh was marinated in herbs and spices, served with crunchy Asian slaw and sweet and tangy sriracha mayonnaise. The chicken was a particular favourite of one of my friends and I scarcely managed to grab a bite! For me, the pork bao was the clear winner (I’ve told you many times how much I love this cut of meat). Thick and juicy pork belly is encased in soft and pillowy bao and served with sweet pineapple compote.
Aptly named the “Fish Finger” Bao (€11.00), this dish has a large fish finger sitting inside the bao. However, you’ll find no Bird’s Eye resemblance in taste here. Tiger prawn and squid katsu are fried in panko breadcrumbs, dotted with house-made sambal sauce, served in that brilliant bao dough.
Sides of the evening were Spiced Rice (€3.50) and Sambal Fries (€4.50). Rice is a pretty standard dish in Asian cuisine and is often overlooked, so you may think I’m mad to harp on about it, but the flavours in this bowl were five-star. Basmati rice has been seasoned with galangal and garam masala, elevating this usually plain side to a flavour bomb side.
Not so long ago we saw the Twitter debate over which restaurants actually make their chips in house, you may think most do, but the majority are using frozen. This is not the case at Chameleon. Hand cut and twice cooked, the sambal fries are coated in a fiery sauce that spice fiends will adore.
Designated drivers of the evening enjoyed alcohol-free beer and the rest enjoyed chilled white wine, the perfect tipple with the spicy dishes we devoured. Chameleon has recently got a fresh lick of paint, giving it a bright new look, but inside you’ll still find some of the tastiest Asian dishes in Dublin. It’s a charming place where you feel right at home with the welcome from staff and will leave with full bellies and smiles all around. If somehow you haven’t visited Chameleon, then book a table right away and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
1 Lower Fownes Street,
Temple Bar, Dublin 2,
T: +353 1 671 0362
REVIEW BY SINÉAD SMYTH