The Chameleon restaurant specialises in Rijst-tafel (rice table), a combination of many exotic and authentic dishes and an excellent introduction to Indonesian cuisine. When the Dutch colonised Indonesia, each wealthy household would have cooks from several of the islands. Each cook would prepare a special dish native to their own island. These dishes would be combined at the dinner table to become Rijst-tafel (rice table). Paolo went along with long time fan and vegetarian Gill Hall.
While we were waiting for the food, Gill and I were reminiscing. I think The Good Karma was Dublin's first macrobiotic restaurant back in the early seventies and it was filled with, run by and staffed with hippies. It was determinedly cool, very laid back and people were inclined to say things like 'far out' and 'stay cool, man' to one another. What made it a nice place, perhaps more than the food, was the amateur attitude of everyone involved. You never felt that it was a commercial enterprise. Sure, money changed hands, but somehow you felt you were part of a social and gastronomic experiment. And to a degree I felt the same about Chameleon - the really charming people working in it had no professional brusqueness, just a quiet, gentle attitude. For the sake of clarity let me just say that when I said 'amateur' I was using it in its French sense - something you do for love rather than gain.
First the hot plates arrived in the middle of the table and then bit by bit they were surrounded with little dishes of the rijst tafel. I won't list all the bits, but Gill had vegetable sate; jukut urab, which is mixed vegetables and bean sprouts; sambal goreng kool, which is peppered white cabbage; peanuts fried in ginger and garlic; fried egg noodles with beansprouts and some pickled vegetables. I had many similar dishes, they just had meat in them - chicken shreds with a macadamia nut sauce, pork in aniseed and a beef satay as a starter. There was a wooden dish on the table with four compartments for condiments like a hot chilli oil, roasted grated coconut and roasted peanuts all of which, Gill explained, you add to your dishes ad libitum. Naturally all this was based on plates filled with rice.
The food was good and we listened to African music, which made Gill feel a little sentimental - she grew up in Zimbabwe. It was around this time that I noticed there was also a table set up oriental style, whereby you sit on a cushion and dine off a table that's about ten inches high. I asked Gill if she knew about that. 'Oh yes,' she said, 'they told me about it when I booked, but I said I doubted my companion would be enthused by sitting on the floor.' How well she knows me.