By Cheryl Simmons – Restaurant Critic
Church Where Food Is The New Religion
Cheryl Simmons, our Restaurant Critic has her prayers answered with a visit to Chameleon
I KNEW I was going out for dinner but just for a moment I questioned myself. I could hear the gentle hum of voices behind some hedges in this busy part of central London. Continuing onto the Marylebone Road, I find a canopy entrance, where I am greeted by a trio of very smart front of house personnel, one of whom directs me into a small arched tunnel, filled with the most exquisite plants and flowers.
The smell is breathtaking and immediately your senses are put on high alert. Next, I step into a large outdoor courtyard where the sound of Latin music is mixed with chatting and laughter, clinking glasses and twinkling lights. It feels like a large, exclusive garden party.
The atmosphere is buzzing, diners enjoying themselves against a backdrop of stunning green shrubbery and flowers. The giant umbrella-style canopies and glass heaters make it a suitable venue for anything the London weather can throw at you. The resident singer has pride of place, elevated onto a plinth above the tables, and is clearly having the time of his life.
The seating options include a spacious shared area as well as nine individual greenhouse booths that seat between four and 30 guests, which are cleverly designed with rustic watering cans, pots and planters, with each unit having its own audio speakers.
This is Chameleon, Number One Marylebone, a Grade 1 listed church building that has been transformed into a wellness centre, fitness studio, art gallery and flower market with the restaurant, located inside the botanical gardens, clearly the jewel in the crown.
First things first, I’m to choose from the extensive drinks menu, featuring cocktails, spirits, beers, red, white, rose and something I hadn’t tried before, orange wine. I gave it a go and was pleased I did. It had a great depth of flavour, not sweet as you might expect, just a hint of jackfruit and was quite strong, the colour intense. I would definitely try it again.
My partner, always the designated driver, had a mouth-watering pomegranate Spritz. Our two guests, 30-something regulars at this hot new venue, enjoyed lychee and rose Bellini and the signature Chameleon cocktail, The Rimon, a freshly squeezed pomegranate Margarita with a twist. I was told all were tantalisingly refreshing.
The kitchen is the domain of Israeli chef, Elior Balbul, who has created a feast of Tel Avivian sharing plates. We kicked off with the most delicious Kubana Brioche together with the tahini and chickpea dip.
Our other small appetisers included Zhug (a hot sauce made from green chilli) with creme fraiche and crushed tomato, yellow tail sashimi with passion fruit, avocado cream, frilled pineapple and creme fresh and carosello & Lebanese cucumber with pitta chips.
We could have easily ordered more as everything was so fresh and tasty but resisted as there were many things we wanted to try from among the main dishes. The whole area was so alive with every table occupied, the music was a pulsating accompaniment; we could have been in Havana or Rio enjoying a fantastic party.
Time for our main courses and again we decided to order a selection to share as we wanted to try as much of this mouth-watering food as possible. My first choice was shrimp dumplings with sorrel, courgette, peas and a buttermilk yogurt foam and it didn’t disappoint. The shrimps were large, soft and perfectly seasoned.
Other dishes included charred poussin on skewers with a mixture of freekeh, spinach, greens and aubergine yogurt, which were beautifully spiced and moist, lamb sirloin with garlic puree, cooked to perfection, chargrilled cauliflower with a black lentil salad and saffron with a cucumber and cashew gazpacho.
Although we thought we had reached our limit, a tray of sweet delights passed by our table, making us all reaching for the dessert menu. For me it had to be the Yuzu & Bergamot curd, goats yogurt, ginger, berries and meringue, while my partner, an unashamed cake lover, opted for the salted Labneh cheesecake with apricot and yogurt sorbet and our guests had a selection of ice creams and sorbets. The favourite flavour was the strawberry and rose.
By now we were all in a very happy place and I can assure anyone planning a visit to Chameleon that the hype doesn’t even begin to do it justice. An amazing venue with an incredible vibe, outstanding service and fantastic food.
The church at One Marylebone was designed in the neo-Classical style by Sir John Soane, who was also responsible for the Bank of England, but there is no need to break the bank for a truly memorable evening at Chameleon – the bill for the four of us including drinks and service was £257 and worth every penny.
1 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 4AQ
Tel: 020 7186 2444