Las Iguanas is located next to the Southbank Centre, looking out over the Thames River and within a few hundred yards of the London Eye. It’s in the heart of tourist town and the majority of it’s customers are most probably tourists. And it’s part of a chain.
The menu promises “fresh latin food lovingly prepared and cooked to order by proper chefs” but does it deliver or does it churn out cheap pseudo-latin crap in the mould of Chiquitos’ tex-mex?
The answer, to a limited extent, is the former though with some reservations and based on a limited sampling of dishes.
The interior is bright, loud and completely unmemorable. The service is sporadic. Some of the staff are friendly, efficient and genuinely doing their best. Others (including one girl, assigned to our area) seem to walk to and fro looking busy but clearly doing their best to shirk their share of the work as much as possible. Luckily, there seem to be a lot of waiting staff employed at Las Iguanas and if you can’t catch the eye of one, you’ll soon snag the attention of another.
The drinks menu offers a selection of cocktails, wine, cider and beer with a 2 for 1 offer on selected cocktails only between 12 and 7pm every day. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean any two with the cheapest being free but two of the same one which rather reduces the chances of smaller tables taking advantage, given different tastes. However, having checked whether it would count, I ordered myself a non-alcoholic cocktail to start, ordering the same one again once it was finished. I chose a Citrus Cooler of crushed fresh lime and lemon topped with lemonade and ice. Unfortunately, whilst it was very refreshing, they used so much crushed ice in the glass that there was very little room for the actual drink. And I think they must have run out of lemonade as the second one tasted as though they’d used with soda water instead. Pete enjoyed a pint of San Miguel beer, on draft.
Based on our small sampling of dishes, the food is surprisingly tasty and there are some intriguing dishes on the menu. We originally intended to order a starter and then go on to mains but the Tapas and Starters menu lists most dishes at about £5 each or 3 for £12 or 5 for £20. Since the two we’d initially selected came to £10.40 we figured we might as well choose a third. Incase they were larger than we anticipated, we held off ordering our mains until after we’d had the tapas.
Pato Taquito – shredded roast duck rolled in a flour tortilla and char-grilled, with sticky chilli jam
Cut into three pieces and set on a plate that could have been drizzled a little more generously with the chilli jam, these rolls were moist and well flavoured and certainly reminded me of flavours we’d experienced recently in Argentina.
Lamb Empanada – two homemade little crispy pastries; popular street food all over South America. Stuffed with slow-braised juicy lamb rubbed in smoky chilli & garlic, servced with fresh papaya and mint salsa
Having experienced fabulous empanadas in Argentina I was curious about how these would match up and was delighted to find that they were truly delicious. The cubed lamb was moist with lots of flavour, quite distinct from the spicing used for the duck, and was packed into crunchy pastry. These wonderful latin pasties offered a perfect balance of casing and filling as good as any we had in Argentina. What’s more, the papaya and mint salsa was so good I’d have happily taken a jar home with me, were such a thing available.
Rioja Chorizo – smoked pork & garlic chorizo made by fifth generation butchers from Rioja, braised in rich Faustino Rioja wine, served with bread to mop up the juices
This was the big disappointment of our order. The chorizo packed none of the punch we associate with the wonderful sausage and was exceptionally bland. Any hope that its flavours may have leached out into the thin Rioja sauce were quickly dashed – the sauce tasted neither of chorizo nor much of red wine. If forced to guess, I’d assume too few bottles of wine were stretched across far too large a braising dish.
Having ordered these three dishes, we realised with some reluctance, that neither of us had space for the exciting main dishes we’d been intending to order. Instead we asked if we could switch to the 5 tapas dish deal by ordering two more. And here’s where you can tell just how good those empanadas were: instead of trying two new dishes one of our choices was a second order of the empanadas! Just as good as the first!
After a little eeny meeny miny mo between the quesadilla (filled with garlicky portobello mushroom and cheese or with brie and mango), the champinones (button mushrooms in creamy smoked chilli sauce) and the nachos we picked the latter. (There were also several very tasty sounding seafood dishes we avoided as Pete’s not a fan).
Nachos – home cooked corn tortilla chips smothered with melted mozzarella, cheddar and red leicester topped with jalapenos, salsa, sour cream and guacamole with the option of adding refried beans, mushrooms, chilli con carne, chorizo or chicken.
The salsa, sour cream and guacamole were served in a pot in the centre of a larger bowl of chips. These were tasty, though similar to nachos as served in many restaurants around the country.
What didn’t we have time for? Mains that tempted include:
Enchilada (hand rolled tortillas smothered in homemade smoked chilli and tomato asuce with melted cheese, refried black beans and garlic coriander rice) with a choice of fillings from Roast butternut squash, iron-rich spinach and chick peas, Spiced chicken, sweet bell peppers and cheese and Roast duck and caramelised onion.
Fresh sirloin steak from Uruguay, aged on the bone for at least 21 days, served with Chunky cumin-roast butternut squash and sweet potato or Spinach and parmesan salad and a choice of dip from a list including standard, horseradish or blue cheese guacamoles, a similar range of salsas, aioli, soured cream and others.
Whole seabass roasted with a caperberry, black olive & lemon salsa served with little saffron potatoes and seasonal greens tossed in garlic & chilli butter on the side.
From the Brazilian section; Moqueca – traditional & indulgent; a creamy coconut curry with peppers, garlic & sweetened with tomatoes, made popular by Brazilian Chef Dada. Served with rice, sweet chunks of plantain, spicy salsa & crunchy coconut farofa (toasted manioc flour) to sprinkle over available either with Sweet potato, palm hearts and sugar snap peas or with Salmon.
Also from the same section; Xinxim – Brazilian lime chicken in a creamy crayfish and peanut sauce with rice, fine green beans, coconut farofa (toasted manioc flour) to sprinkle & sweet plantain, said to be Pele’s favourite.
There were a number of desserts that appealed too including Ipanema Mess (sweet guava, mascarpone and crushed meringue) and Aztec chocolate fudge cake (warmed spiced chocolate orange cake).
Given our limited order, it’s hard to judge whether or not Las Iguanas delivers on it’s wider menu. However, based on what we tasted, I’d certainly like to return and find out. And if the rest proves disappointing in the end, there’s always the empanadas!