In the foot­steps of Depp, a near miss near Diss

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

Chameleon House, 3 Re­den­hall Rd, Har­leston,

Nor­folk IP20 9EN Three cour­ses with wine and cof­fee, £35-£40

per head

As pas­sen­gers of that air­line may agree, it says some­thing about an air­port ex­pe­ri­ence when a jour­ney with Ryanair qual­i­fies as light relief. I tell this tale not merely to give this re­view its con­text, but to warn you about the dan­ger of brav­ing air­port se­cu­rity, as I did at Stansted in July, in pos­ses­sion of three cur­ren­cies.

Alarmed by the mix­ture of eu­ros, pounds and dol­lars of which I emp­tied my pock­ets at the scan­ner, a se­cu­rity guy mur­mured some­thing dark about money laun­der­ing, and or­dered me to sur­ren­der pass­port and board­ing card prepara­tory to an in­ter­view with “the BDO” (Be­hav­iour De­tec­tion Of­fi­cer). A bearded chap even­tu­ally pitched up, and a po­lite in­ter­ro­ga­tion about my triple cur­rency out­rage en­sued un­til he asked what I do for a liv­ing. “I see, sir, and what do you write about?” he in­quired. “Oh, in­sanely of­fi­cious air­port se­cu­rity, restau­rants, BDOs, that sort of thing.” The in­ter­view rapidly con­cluded with my re­lease, to the undis­guised dis­ap­point­ment of a trav­el­ling com­pan­ion who had set his fil­ial heart on see­ing his fa­ther led away in cuffs.

Once aboard the Ryanair flight to Ma­jorca, such was my joy at be­ing a free man that I broke all known avi­a­tion eti­quette, and in mad Jewish-un­cle mode be­gan min­ing the man in the next seat for fa­mil­ial data (in short or­der it was dis­closed that he goes by the name of Peter Asken, his fa­ther is a re­tired urol­o­gist, one son is a fine crick­eter, the other a ta­lented swim­mer, etc, etc).

Then he men­tioned liv­ing in Nor­folk, and in my un­end­ing quest for undis­cov­ered trea­sure, I asked if he knew of a lo­cal restau­rant worth re­view­ing. “Well,” he replied, “there’s al­ways mine.”

So it was last week that I found my­self at the Chameleon House in Har­leston, a de­light­fully old-fash­ioned mar­ket town, with a cou­ple of friends who live nearby in Diss (and had heard good re­ports about said restau­rant).

This, as Mr Asken had told me dur­ing the safety drill we all study so in­tently in the cer­tainty that a life jacket will do the trick if you hap­pen to plough into the sea at 550mph, is one of those rare joints at which pun­ters are greeted less as pay­ing cus­tomers than as old and val­ued friends. “How was your hol­i­day?” Asken greeted the party which ar­rived af­ter us. Given that none of them had been de­tained by a BDO – or flown with Ryanair – it ap­peared to have gone fine.

The restau­rant’s name, he also ex­plained dur­ing the flight, refers to its ca­pac­ity for change. He and his wife, Ginni, opened it as a Ja­panese place some 15 years ago, and then flirted with fu­sion cui­sine. They re­fur­bished it a year ago, set­tling on an all-day menu rang­ing from sand­wiches to the heartily eclec­tic; and on a stolid, mod­ern-farm­housey look, with stained floor­boards, dis­tressed wooden doors, a large brick fire­place fram­ing a wood-burn­ing stove, and jolly ab­stracts on the walls. The room has enough warmth to do with­out piped mu­sic, though mul­ti­ple rep­e­ti­tions of his break­through 1987 solo sin­gle English­man in New York did prompt us to ask our­selves the age-old ques­tion, “O St­ing, where is thy death?”

Af­ter out­stand­ing bread and olives, we kicked off with a trio of fine starters. A soup of white beans with gruyère and lentils was com­fort­ing and well-tex­tured, if un­der­sea­soned, while king prawn tem­pura was im­mac­u­lately deep fried in a light bat­ter, and served with el­e­gantly shred­ded veg­eta­bles and a de­li­cious dip of plum, soy and se­same oil. My mus­sels were not the plumpest, but they were unim­peach­ably fresh and en­livened by a gar­licky sauce of tomato and chorizo.

Sit­ting at a mini-re­fec­tory ta­ble, we gazed through the win­dows on to the high street in the frus­trated hope of catch­ing sight of Johnny Depp, who lives nearby, and who my friends re­ported is al­ways happy to stop and chat with lo­cals. Asken del­i­cately re­fused to con­firm or deny whether he dines here, but it seems ex­actly the kind of un­pre­ten­tious restau­rant which this least pompous and self­ag­gran­dis­ing of megas­tars would like.

Pos­si­bly in ho­mage to Depp’s mar­itime per­sona as Jack Spar­row – or pos­si­bly not – one of us had the fish cakes. Th­ese tasted pow­er­fully of salmon, rather than the usual po­tato, and came with a wa­ter­cress-flavoured crème fraîche. “Light and lemony, lovely and crunchy,” was the verdict. A steak in gar­lic but­ter came well done as re­quested – a culi­nary crime of­ten per­pe­trated by those who grew up dur­ing or shortly af­ter the war, when poor meat was rou­tinely in­cin­er­ated, though this sir­loin was far too good to war­rant such blas­phemy. I had a cu­ri­ous but pleas­ing casse­role in which thick slices of juicy chicken breast sat atop a med­ley of beans, spicy sausage and kale.

Pud­dings were im­pres­sive, par­tic­u­larly a heart-shaped mul­berry par­fait with a gi­gan­tic tu­ille. We lin­gered hap­pily over cof­fee and the dregs of a very de­cently priced South African pino­tage for just long enough for me to miss my train. Not ev­ery­thing that brings the Michael O’Leary trav­el­ling ex­pe­ri­ence back to mind will be a de­light, it oc­curred as I bought an ex­or­bi­tant new ticket. But with that Ryanair flight to Ma­jorca, thanks to this charm­ing restau­rant I was still well ahead of the game.

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