I often think that I am incredibly spoilt to live in London, where the whole World seems to be represented in culinary form. London, if anything is a very multicultural city and the diversity of restaurants on offer is simply astounding. The problem with having so much choice is to make a decision.
We have walked past Las Iguanas so many times and it always looks busy and lively inside– a great sign for a Latin American restaurant. We have been tempted to try it on multiple occasions but so far never made it past the menu outside. Each time we promised ourselves… next time. Somehow next time had taken over two years to come. So when we were invited to sample Las Iguanas dishes over in Brunswick Square, we jumped at the idea. Bar actually travelling to Brazil, lunch at Iguanas seems a great alternative to tasting South American cuisine.
Las Iguanas is a chain of Latin American themed restaurants with several outlets across London. Las Iguanas offers dishes from “Brazil and beyond” as well as the classic fajitas and burritos. My experience of Latin American restaurants in London so far has consisted of a wonderful Tapas evening at Senor Ceviche, a couple of visits to Wahaca (pretty authentic I think and fairly tasty) and several meals at Chimichanga before the cinema.
I don’t necessarily write about chain restaurants since they tend to do alright without reviewers and certain bloggers blatantly refuse to do so. But whilst I do love to support local independent restaurants, chain restaurants exist for a good reason. They generally provide tasty food at a consistent quality, so you know exactly what to expect.
Sometimes after a long week at work, all you want to do is kick off those shoes, sit back and relax with some cocktails and nibbles. Las Iguanas is the perfect place to do so.
ABOUT LAS IGUANAS
Las Iguanas was created in 1991 when founder Eren Ali bought a failed Italian restaurant from his landlady in Bristol. Now 24 years later there are around 40 restaurants spread across the UK with more in the pipeline.
The first restaurant opened in the depth of a recession. But the concept of a fun, vibrant restaurant that serves simple, fresh Latin American food in a casual setting carried Las Iguanas through these bad economic times.
A lot has been written about the reasons the restaurant succeeded and grew into a substantial chain.
But I believe the main reason Las Iguanas flourished is because they stuck to a great idea which attracted new clients. They then retained their customer base by listening to their needs and constantly improving the restaurants without losing the core concept.
Here I want to mention that a scandal last year meant that many people refused to pop into Las Iguanas. Their unfair tipping policy was widely publicised in the national media. Fortunately Las Iguanas has since then changed their pay structure to a more fair system for the staff. I am glad they did, since I would never knowingly eat somewhere where the staff isn’t appropriately tipped for standing on their feet all day. I know that this issue was widely discussed on social media at the time so I am keen to point out that it has now been rectified.
LOCATION OF LAS IGUANAS
Las Iguanas has several outlets across London – including one in Westfield, one in Old Spitalfields Market, on in the Southbank Centre, one at the O2 and one near Wembley.
Gary and I decided to go eat a Las Iguanas in the Brunswick Centre. The Brunswick Centre is only a hopscotch away from Kings Cross station, right beside Russel Square and thus in easy reach from most locations.
It is located in the centre of Bloomsbury, an area with an amazing mix of architectural styles, as well as the location of some awesome coffee shops and restaurants. On the architectural front – it’s hard to beat the Brunswick Centre for impact.
The exterior of the building was never painted because the Borough could not afford to complete work on the building after they took control. In Hodgkinson’s design, the blocks would have been painted cream, a shade typical of the Georgian period, as a homage to the terraced houses that previously stood on the site and those that still surround it.
Like many Brutalist pieces of architecture, the Brunswick Centre divides opinions. Those who favour the Barbican and Southbank are going to fall in love with this modern piece of architecture. Despite being widely disliked by those who are unsympathetic to modernist architecture however, The Brunswick centre achieved Grade II status in 2000.
The Brunswick centre was recently renovated. The renovations included the painting of the blocks in their originally-planned colour and the commissioning of artist Susanna Heron to introduce water features to the central space. The major work was completed in late 2006 with the opening of branches of several high street chain stores and restaurants. Now referring to itself as The Brunswick, the centre contains 560 flats, various shops, cafés and restaurants, a Waitrose supermarket, and the Renoir Cinema.
On weekends, locals gather at the big market in the middle of Brunswick Square. Among other stalls, you will find a large variety of pop-up food stalls with fair from around the world. Try one of di’s Duck Confit baguettes, a Cod curry or a Medpaella.
Don’t miss the Friends of Brunswick Square garden, slightly hidden from view, right next to the Brunswick Centre. Founded in 2008 by local residents, institutions and businesses located around the square, the garden aims to promote enjoyment and conserve the biodiversity of trees, plants and wildlife of the square.
INTERIOR AND ATMOSPHERE OF LAS IGUANAS
The interior of Las Iguanas is warm and welcoming. In general I loved the style and atmosphere of this restaurant. The interior decoration is colourful, bright and modern with a clear Latin vibe.
The wooden floors are complimented by muted shades of ochre on the walls, with vibrant orange cement tiles in a Latin pattern around the bar itself. Exposed timber and giant distressed graphics on some of the walls recreate the feeling of street advertising prominent throughout South America and allude to the idea of faded Latino glamour. Reclaimed crates are stacked high above the open kitchen area and reclaimed timber boards in pastel tonal colours add to this fun and flamboyant Latino style.
Las Iguanas has a lovely up-beat, positive vibe that continues into the main restaurant area. A relaxing ambience is created with low lighting and Latin music in the background.
Acoustically Las Iguanas really has it nailed when it came to chatter and noise. This is something where a lot of restaurants fall down. At Las Iguanas we could easily hold a decent conversation, even though the restaurant quickly filled up and there was music playing in the background.
Our service on the day was friendly and professional – the hostess was knowledgeable and made sure we knew our way around the menus when seating us, pointing out the special offers and deals.
MOCKTAILS AT LAS IGUANAS
Drinks wise, Las Iguanas has a lot to offer and I would highly recommend the cocktails. The cocktail list itself was just as we expected, a plentiful amount of fun and fruity flavours.
Make sure to head to this chain for Happy Hour where drinkers can enjoy two for one on a selection of the mixed drinks. It is just a shame that non-alcoholic cocktails weren’t included in the offer.
There are a dozen stools around the bar, should you be in the market for drinks without food, and with such a lot of tempting options on offer, this is a distinct possibility!
Since it was lunch time, Gary and I decided to try Las Iguanas mocktails. I changed my mind quite a few times before finally settling on the Apple Mojo-Less (3.30£). The muddle mint, lime, sugar and apple juice made for a zingy refreshing cocktail. This cocktail certainly wasn’t to sweet and rather on the sour side. Hints of apple shone through a strong flavour of lime.
Gary opted for the passion fruit and orange cooler (3.30£) which was light, sweet, juicy and refreshing. The mixture of passionfruit, orange and lemon almost tasted like mango. Neither mocktail lasted particularly long. They were just too good!
FOOD AT LAS IGUANAS
Do you have a picky-eater in your family? Do you know someone with a food intolerance? Then Las Iguanas might just make your life a little easier. At Las Iguanas you will not only be presented with a mouth-watering ‘main’ menu, they also have an additional kids menu, ‘veggie and vegan’ menu and gluten free menu on hand.
Las Iguanas award winning main menu offers an extensive and very comprehensive array of tapas, steaks and grills, burgers, fajitas, salads and other Latin American dishes. I liked the fact that Las Iguanas goes beyond the Mexican Classics of Fajitas and Burritos, along with various other tortilla-based creations. I was excited to try out some of the lesser known dishes. At Las Iguanas, food is a passion and you can sense it
For starters Las Iguanas offers a selection of tapas style dishes.
I chose the Pato Taquito (5.75£), shredded duck and caramelised onion char-grilled in a flour tortilla with a vibrant, spicy, jewel coloured Cranberry Salsa. It was nice to see that the tortillas were homemade and the duck literally melted in my mouth. The salsa was more sour than sweet, hot and spicy and provided a great kick that cut through the rich meat. One little niggle perhaps, was that the tortillas were just a little too charred for my liking. But some might like the caramelised taste.
HAVANA CLUB & JERK BBQ GLAZED PORK RIBS
Gary chose the Havana Club & Jerk BBQ Glazed Pork Ribs (5.75£). It is hard to get the ratio of meat to fat spot on, so he is not always a fan. But this time he reassured me that the dish was excellent. The portion was rather generous with lots of meat on the bones. Perfectly cooked, the meat just fell apart. Gary made a right mess of his fingers whilst he dug into the sticky sweet sauce and I particularly liked the crunchy onion that added a bit of umami and texture to the flavour combination.
There wasn’t a long wait between courses, just enough to let you have a little natter and allow the previous dish to digest a bit. We didn’t feel rushed nor forgotten even though there were a lot of people dining out at the same time as us.
With so much to choose from for the main course, it was tough deciding what to have for my main. Now I would usually pick Fajitas (£14.95) as my main, but I decided to challenge myself and chose something a little more exotic.
BAHIAN COCONUT CHICKEN
So I ordered Bahian Coconut Chicken (£12.95), mainly because I thought it would look good on camera. And it did. The chicken pan-fried in cumin, coriander & cayenne & cooked in a creamy coconut sauce with ginger, garlic, tomatoes & coriander, stood out nicely against its blue plate. The chicken was served with spring onion rice and shredded greens. The whole dish was very Moorish and I would categorise it as comfort food. Not dissimilar to a curry, the chicken warmed my belly. I loved the cabbage on the side and the fact that it was still crisp and not overdone. The spring onions in the rice were a nice touch that I will happily copy at home. . I loved my meal and was really impressed with the delicious flavours and subtle level of spice.
Gary had the Blazing Bird, a spicy half-chicken marinated in a fiery sauce and served with sweet potato curly fries and Las Iguanas special slaw flecked with jalapenos. Again Gary was very impressed by the quality of the meat, saying it just disintegrated on his tongue because of its tenderness. In contrast, the curly fries were nice and crisp. The sticky marinade wasn’t all too spicy and featured a nice mix of herbs.
At this point, I felt pretty full and did think twice about ordering dessert. But there is always that little bit extra room in your stomach for something sweet.
There is a good array of desserts available at Las Iguanas, I was sorely tempted by the Dulce de Leche Macadamia Cheesecake (5.40£), but instead opted for the more photogenic Churros. Apparently you cannot go to Las Iguanas without ordering them.
You can choose your portion size. If you are still feeling hungry after your main meal you could satisfy that craving with six Churros (6.95£), but I opted for the more sensible three Churros (3.50£). They are served with a pot of chocolate ganache or Dulce de Leche. I chose the latter on recommendation.
The churros were crispy on the outside, fluffy in the middle and covered with a generous sprinkling of sugar. The dipping pot was so generous that there was plenty of sauce left over after I’d gobbled up all the churros. Although I really enjoyed my churros, they were just a little greasy for my taste. I think I’m actually more of a cheesecake girl after all.
AZTEC CHOCOLATE FUDGE CAKE
Gary ordered the Aztec Chocolate Fudge Cake (6.95£), a warm spiced chocolate orange sponge cake served with vanilla ice cream. This desert was very rich and surprisingly not overly sweet. The chocolate was rich and dark, with the taste of the orange clearly cutting through. The chocolate sauce was dripping of the edge of the cake and the vanilla ice cream was a nice clean contrast.
We really enjoyed our afternoon at Las Iguanas and were very pleasantly surprised. Las Iguanas is a wonderful relaxed and friendly place to eat or grab a cocktail.
Las Iguanas might be a chain restaurant but it doesn’t really feel like one. The service is friendly and always accommodating. You never feel like you are waiting for ages or are pushed for time. The fact that we felt so well looked after and all the extra little touches made this restaurant a place to remember.
What really impressed us though on the day was the tenderness of the meat. Las Iguanas must only use meat of excellent quality, since in each dish, the chicken, duck and pork were lovely, moist and fell apart between our teeth.
The menu at Las Iguanas is extensive and goes far beyond the typical Mexican fair. So even if you’ve been to Las Iguanas before it is more than worth a revisit as there are always plenty of new things to try.
If you’re looking for a cocktail and some quality food, why not give this restaurant a go?
I would totally recommend Las Iguanas and can’t wait to go back!
Disclaimer: I attended as a guest of Las Iguanas, nonetheless the opinions contained within this article are my own and were not in any way influenced by the hospitality.