Just across the road from the Town Hall is Hill Street. Hill Street, as you might expect, has a fair incline which runs down to the back of New Street station.Many a venue has come and gone from this strip of town, including a few good places.
The Chameleon is tucked into a small inlet at the bottom of large building called Victoria Square. It is a substantial venue but, because of its location, it is easy to miss. The venue used to be a bar called Henry’s, but its present owners moved in a couple of years ago and gave it a thorough facelift. It has an independent city vibe, bright, funky, bling and brash. A place where suits and rappers can happily hang out together. You might take a group to have a slap-up meal and some cocktails. Alternatively, you could retreat to one of its quieter corners and munch your way through an eclectic mix of culinary treats from the open-plan kitchen. Lady C and I chose to do just that during a Tuesday lunchtime. The Chameleon’s head chef Dave Gill had just revealed his winter menu, so a review seemed appropriate.
The starting menu has plenty of range, from soups to salads, so we opted for a sharing platter to sample a few. Two of the four dishes really stood out. The first was the brie and cranberry wontons, warm little parcels of cheesy, fruity joy. I am not sure I have ever had French/Chinese fusion and would never have thought it would work, but these did. Second was the duck and hoisin rolls, which were nicely seasoned, juicy and contained the right balance of sweet and salt. We also had some large, garlic prawns which were cooked just right, and a salty, hammy coarse pork and smoked bacon terrine, which was perfectly agreeable.
The main dishes at The Chameleon, which also include a list from the grill, speak of potential. There are Kobe steaks, lobster, fish and Christmas turkey to choose from, but we were in a deep sea sort of mood. I ordered a pan fried fillet of hake, which came with a light white wine, pea & shallot sauce. It was classic French cooking, delicate and assured. My hake was juicy and well-seasoned, which was a great relief, as it is so common to end up with fish which has spent too long in the pan. Meanwhile, Lady C was tucking into half a lobster served with crayfish butter – this gave her great delight and I scooped a bite to find she had chosen wisely.
The Chameleon does desserts but, even better than that, it does puddings. Desserts are delicate little spoonfuls which are fine, but what about when you want some sweet, gooey, childish happiness? We ordered a triple platter of puddings and fought over the best bits. The chocolate and orange cheesecake was rapidly demolished as it provided a great balance of the two flavours and a little spice to bring it alive. There was also a warm, fruity Stollen, which came with cinnamon ice cream that cut through its German partner. Finally, we had a glazed, eggnog custard tart, with nutmeg Chantilly cream. The tarts were light and pleasant, although we’d probably ruined our palettes with the cheesecake to really appreciate their subtle flavour.
The Chameleon is the sort of place Brummies should support and go to for the odd lunchtime bash and for after work drinks and food. It’s an independent place, aiming to make a change from the repetitive Café Reds and La Tascas, of which there are far too many. However, charity shouldn’t drive you to The Chameleon’s door. For food lovers, there are two key things that restaurants must always get right; good ingredients and skilled chefs. Thankfully, there’s little doubt that The Chameleon possesses both of these.