We built our reputation on championing small independent business in Portsmouth and Southsea. Although since its opening in February 2001 Gunwharf Quays has been still been a favourite of ours, especially during summer months. I lived in one of the apartments for a couple of years and while I was there I would regularly find Jamie’s Italian, Nandos, Las Iguanas and Old Customs House cropping up on my bank statements.
At the end of last year, my girlfriend and I attended the re-opening of Las Iguanas on behalf of Strong Island. It was rammed with friends of the Gunwharf Quays management team, local journalists, councillors and bloggers. There was even a pair of samba dances making their way around the venue a nice greeting as you enter although I’m glad that we didn’t have to have any awkward moments when they move around the venue while you’re eating.
The bar had moved from its old position against the wall, this has created a small bar area which can house around fifty customers who are looking for more of a bar atmosphere than a dining experience. The decor is much brighter, with vibrant fresh colours on bold graphics dancing across the walls. They are complemented by plenty of greenery and flashes of neon here and there. The most striking of which is the feature wall in the new bar area, it’s the first thing that you’ll notice as you enter. It reads “beba Cachaça aqui” which translates to drink Cachaça here.
Prior to speaking with the General Manager Kyle, I had never actually heard of Cachaça before. For those in the same position, it is a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice and is the most popular spirit among distilled alcoholic beverages in Brazil. Outside of Brazil, Cachaça is used almost exclusively as an ingredient in tropical drinks, with the Caipirinha being the most famous cocktail.
Since my visit to the re-opening in I have actually been back on a few occasions. On each visit so far I have had the Dadinhos. Made to their own specification in Dorset, the recipe is influenced by spices and cheeses from Latin America. The small cheese cubes are fried and served with a sticky chilli jam. These are so good and I swear I could’ve sat there shovelling them in until they ran out or I was ill, whichever came first.
I am a huge burger fan so during my first trip I opted for the award-winning Buenos Aires Burger. This consisted of 100% prime short rib & chuck beef patty, char-grilled & topped with aioli, crisp baby gem lettuce, smoky pork chorizo, caramelised onion, Emmental cheese & fresh herb chimichurri in a toasted brioche bun with slaw and a side of fries. While I am a lover of chorizo I found that it was a bit much and won’t be having that one again.
I had more success during my next trip where I opted for their scrumptious Cuban sandwich. It contains roasted pork belly, pulled pork, Emmental cheese & ham with a sweet mustard & green pickle relish layer in a buttery toasted bun. Along with a side of Dadinhos and a shared portion of ribs I was food heaven. Just listing those ingredients now making me salivate like one of Pavlov’s dogs.
With such a large menu there are still plenty of other dishes that I’d like to try including Xim Xim and the taco planks. Their signature dish has previously been described as a favourite by Pele. If you are struggling to decide then my advice would be to have a little bit of everything as you will find the starters also listed as tapas options. Giving you smaller portions which is great if you want a little snack while sipping your 241 cocktails. You will find Nachos, Ipanema Mussels, Gambas, Albondigas, Pato Taquito, Chicken wings and of course the aforementioned Dadinhos.
The full menu is available online and you will also be able to find menus tailor-made with a range of vegan, nut free, gluten free, dairy free and vegetarian options.
Las Iguanas has always been a popular spot for those wanting to take advantage of their cocktail offers. Las Iguanas’ happy hour cocktail menu begins when they open the doors and are available until they close for the evening. When it comes to cocktails I’m pretty fussy, my go-to choices are a Piña colada or a Dark ‘n’ Stormy. There are tons to choose from including the beautifully presented Smoking Plum and their sharing skulls. Although if it isn’t listed on their extensive menu the bar staff seem to be capable of knocking up pretty much anything within reason. I tend to opt for one of their Chilean Rothhammer beers, not the best beer in the world but certainly not a bad one. Fingers crossed the craft beer movement hits Latin America in the near future.
The chain restaurant market is quite saturated these days and we’ve lost some big names in recent months. Quality always shines through and I can’t see there being any issues with Las Iguanas’ future. As long as they continue to provide great value with diverse tastes I will continue to go back again and again.