The people behind Chameleon honestly couldn’t have given this Marylebone restaurant a better name unless they called it The Grade I-Listed Place In Marylebone That Will Confuse, Delight, Change, And Confuse You Once More. It’s an outdoor restaurant that swings between sophistication and silliness, delicious and mediocre, tranquillity and the kind of decibels that require ear plugs and in all honesty, Xanax. The bread is some of the best in London, the taco is something we would quite happily never meet again. There are highs, there are lows, the restaurant constantly changes. Let’s discuss, shall we?
The first time we came to Chameleon, we witnessed a woman in a full-length gold gown playing an electric violin out on the huge foliage-packed terrace and self-anointed ‘God’s Garden’. We also saw Jimmy Carr merrily picking his way through the Mediterranean-meets-Tel-Aviv dishes—think charred steak shakshuka, aubergine carpaccio, and fattoush salad. We discussed the fact that this might be The Best Looking Terrace In London and then had to trade our bewildered coffee order for a negroni because sometimes that’s what electric violin-provoked tinnitus demands. A mariachi band appeared. Despite the branded ice cubes and the perfect tear of the Jerusalem bagel, our appetite faded. It was 11am and we made a sacred oath to never return to Chameleon.
The second time we went to Chameleon—sacred oaths pale in comparison to the crucial task of having an opinion on hot London restaurants—we sat in a quaint private greenhouse and had one of the most charming meals of our lives. We fell madly in love with the oh-so soft kubana brioche that comes with a seriously zesty zhug, green chilli, and crème fraîche tomato dip. The confit egg yolk risotto was that rare London dish where the black truffle actually added something other than a declaration of being fancy. And the shrimp dumplings came in a sun-dried pepper and yoghurt bisque that has officially replaced tzatziki in our hearts as the ultimate big holiday energy dish. The lamb rib tacos were a fall-apart let-down but one bottle of wine became two and when the bill arrived we weren’t mad that a meal here set us back £200. It was worth the price tag and worth returning to experience Chameleon’s metamorphosis.
Will Chameleon change again? Almost definitely. The good news is that, since our visits, brunch is off the cards. Chameleon has traded clickbait violinists before coffee for grown-up alfresco dining with polite chatter about which houseplant to invest in from the little on-site flower market. It’s open for lunch on Saturdays but for the rest of the week it’s a strictly evening-only alfresco affair. The bad news: from July, those leafy greenhouses that keep diners sheltered through winter and spring will only be available for private dining. You win some, you lose some. But the garden still hits all the right notes for an anniversary dinner, a unique outdoor dining experience, or taking that new tropical shirt for a romantic moment with some yellowtail sashimi. Just be sure to check the website before making your booking, in case it’s all changed again. That’s the nature of a chameleon after all.
If the Pringles manifesto is once you pop you just can’t stop, this brioche’s tagline should be tear and tear until it’s gone and you despair. We are obsessed. Fluffy with just enough sweetness that it keeps the zing of the accompanying zhug in check. A must-order.
Glance outside your personal greenhouse. Is there sunshine? If the answer is yes, then order the yellowtail. Quality fish sliced so thin that it’ll sit on your tongue and give your taste buds a little shisho party. The pickled mooli is a nice touch.
Our favourite starter at Chameleon. FYI bread doesn’t count as a starter, that’s just a carbohydrate necessity. The dumplings are great and hold their own but it’s the bisque that we now think about every single time the sun creeps out behind a cloud. Butter beans, spinach, sun-dried peppers, and yoghurt. It’s sippable summer.
There’s nothing like attempting to wedge a hefty lamb rib in a disintegrating soggy black taco to kill the mood. There are much better things happening here. A faff. Move along.
Rich warning activated. Between the confit egg yolk, black truffle, and ricotta, this is a heavy main that is intense but not to the point that you won’t be using your finger to harvest the last of the parmesan in your empty bowl. Consider sharing alongside one of the lighter fishy dishes.
Okay, this will set you back almost 30 quid but we promise it’s very good. The scallops are those big juicy numbers that will make you use the word ‘meaty’. They’re accompanied by what is best described as a mushroom fest, and the king oysters in particular add a rich taste and enough heft to allow us to declare this a ‘filling main’.