I have often said to people that one of the characteristics I admire most in somebody is their ability to surprise me, even if I've known them for ages. It might discovering a clutch of heavy metal CDs in the collection of an old friend with a taste for opera. It might be a long-term vegetarian friend ordering a bacon sandwich. Or it might be finding out that a reserved colleague is an excellent salsa dancer. Few things can please me more, in a world where things are depressingly seldom truly surprising.
Which probably explains my fondness for Le Chameleon - a shop and restaurant situated on the outskirts of Humansdorp in South Africa. Now Humansdorp is a farming town – in fact, it is the centre of the district's farming and light industry. And although it has some fine characteristics, such as the beautful trees (planted before the First World War) that line most of its residential streets, it's not where you'd expect to find much by way of restaurants. If you persevere and go in search of Le Chameleon, you will find it sandwiched between petrol stations and agricultural machinery merchants, with an unprepossessing facade. But step inside and the surprises begin.
The first area looks like a cross between a farm stall and home-bake shop. Shelves are lined with local produce and preserves, and a good selection of baked goods including (when we were there) the Biggest Chelsea Buns in Africa. Step up into the next room, and yo will find yourself in a decor and gift shop that feels like a veritable Alladin's cave. Floaty dresses jostle for space alongside sparkly handbags; gilt frames cosy up to rustic wall hangings; and scented candles perfume the air while customers make their choices – or just fondle the merchandise!
Step yet further into the building and you will arrive at the restaurant – an engaging room filled with a charming mix of unmatched furniture, huge gilt mirrors, and whimsical lights, from paper star-shaped to twinkly crystal chandeliers. Step through the next door and you will find yourself in the tea garden, but we chose to stop under the twinkly chandeliers and check out the menu.
The menu is extensive and covers the full spectrum of breakfast, brunch, lunch and tea options (the salads in particular sounded fantastic). We had opted for brunch and decided to order a sweet and savoury dish and share both as the portions are very generous. First up was the Le Chameleon omelette with a bit of everything – bacon, mushrooms, onions and cheese. The omelette itself had that fantastic light, pillowy consistency that really good omelettes have and mine never quite seem to achieve – maybe it requires separate whipping up of the whites and yolks?? Either way, the omelette was delicious and a very filling brunch option. But of course we could not leave without sampling something sweet and we had selected the French toast with green fig preserve, bacon and maple syrup.
This was everything I could possibly want fron French toast. The toast itself was made with slices of baguette and the contrast between sweet figs and savoury bacon was perfect (and besides, I'm a sucker for green fig preserve!). I also loved the addition of flaked almonds that gave the dish some textural interest. As you can seem both dishes were beautifully presented, complete with a fresh flower - a feast for the eyes as well as the tongue. Our bill, together with coffees and excellent fresh fruit juices but excluding service, came to R76.00 (about £6.30). The restaurant is also fully licensed and has an extensive wine list, so long lunches over a bottle of something bubbly are a distinct possibility
If you find yourself in the vicinity of Humansdorp or nearby Jeffrey's Bay or St Francis, do yourself a favour and pop into Le Chameleon for a meal. It is a little like steppng into the looking glass and into Wonderland – but with better food!
53 Voortrekker Road
Tel. +27 (0)42 291 0262
Fax. +27 (0)42 291 0078
Open Mon-Fri 08h30-16h00 and Sat 08h30-15h00, closed Sundays and evenings
This post is part of a new series for 2010 called Sundays in South Africa. As the entire football-conscious world knows by now, the FIFA World Cup 2010 will be taking place for the first time ever on African soil – in my home country of South Africa! I can't tell you how proud this makes me, or how good it is to see that all the stadiums that the naysayers said would never be built on time standing tall and proud and beautiful. The country is, of course, anticipating a huge surge in visitors and I know that many people will see the cup as a reason to visit a country they have long been meaning to visit, and use the tournament as a jumping-off point for visiting other, non-football South African destinations. With this in mind, as well as my backlog of posts about my South African trips, I will be trying to post a review of somewhere South African, or a South African recipe, every Sunday in the run-up to the tournament. I can't pretend it is going to be a comprehensive guide to South Africa – but it will certainly be enough to give you some ideas! Click here for previous posts in the series.