Las Iguanas is one of my favourite places to eat in Gunwharf Quays and just when I thought they couldn’t get any better, they did. With the release of their new menu, inspired by Latin American cuisine, Las Iguanas has officially upped its game and, although it was already the perfect spot for pre-drinkers, couples and parties, now there’s even more reason to go.
Called ‘your ticket to celebrating the Latin way of life’, Las Iguanas is a vibrant, atmospheric place which is always bustling with busy waitresses and avid foodies. The lighting is warm, the décor is rustic and, in the background, you can hear upbeat Spanish tracks to really set the mood. There are plenty of tables and booths so, even if you didn’t book, you won’t be waiting long.
Entering the restaurant, the first thing you notice is the smell of spice. Oh, and the heat. As if transported to a Mexican market, chilli powder wafts up into the air and the fire from the kitchen, stirring underneath woks and plates, kisses you on the cheek. To your left, you will find the bar, already heaving with scantily dressed women and men dressed in shirts, slurping down cocktails before heading off to Tiger. To your right, people gorge on food and nod, satisfied at one another. As a waitress seats me, I pass them and ogle their dinners – fajitas, nachos, salads and tapas.
My mouth begins to water.
As the waitress paces me a menu and a jug of iced tap water, I begin to look through the drinks. Now, if there’s one thing you should know Las Iguanas for, it’s for their cocktails. Spanning across five pages, you can get anything from a typical Long Island Tea to a “cocktail trunk” where you can ‘be your own bartender’. There are shots and boards too for larger parties and, for those who don’t drink, there are plenty of mocktails to tempt too. What is even better is the fact that all day, every day, their cocktails are ‘2 for 1’, making having a good time that much more affordable. However, you can’t mix and match and can only have two of the same cocktail. Although I would prefer more choice, this still doesn’t change the fact and that is a brilliant bargain.
When the waitress returned, I ordered two watermelon margaritas and prepared myself. A few minutes later, she returned with two large martini glasses, filled to the brim with a cloudy pink liquid, and two giant slices of melon perched on the rim. As she placed them down, I gave her a beaming grin and began to guzzle down the drinks. The presentation was awesome, and certainly unique, and the cocktail itself was beautiful balance between the sweetness of the melon and the bitterness of the tequila. It was refreshing yet boozy and would be the perfect companion on a summer’s day.
As I finished my second, and made my way to the melon slices, I flicked through the menu and thought one thing – extensive. Many critics throw that word around quite a bit whenever they are given more than a few options but Las Iguanas really was extensive, in every aspect of the word. Their menu was at least seven sides and featured everything and anything to sizzling Fajita Stacks, Dominican Goat Curry and Havana Club and Jerk BBQ Pork Ribs. Their vegetarian options are vast too with tasty options such as the Bean and Beetroot Burger, Veggie Chilli and Truffle Mac and Cheese. The flavours appear to encapsulate the true Latin American taste and show off items you necessarily wouldn’t be able to make at home.
Torn between too many choices, I settled on a selection of tapas and sides including the Chicharrónes, Shredded Duck Tacos, Gambas and Dadinhos. In no time at all, they were brought out to me, immaculately presented in steaming ramekins and on wooden boards. I thanked the waitress and she, bright-eyed and bubbly, said to let her know if I needed anything else. Luckily, with this Latin feast, I had everything I could ever need.
Vibrant, affordable and memorable. That’s the Las Iguanas’ way.
First, the Chicharrónes. This new item on the menu is Las Iguanas’ take on pork scratchings. Lighter and fluffier than the traditional pub snack, these were moreish and tasty with a slight sprinkling of spice. For a dip, there was guacamole which, although nice, felt somewhat lacking. It was smooth and flavoursome but didn’t quite match the umami morsels. Perhaps a chunky salsa would be a better fit.
Next, the Gambas. Swimming in a pool of hot garlic, butter, oil and spice, these prawns were chunky and splayed open to allow and easy peel. The meat was tender yet slightly chewy yet, most of all, they were deveined, allowing you to have a pleasurable, grit-free eating experience. Safe to say, these were the best prawns I have had in a while.
The Dadinhos were nice too – crispy cheesy cubes served with chilli jam. They were soft and warm with a delicate taste but, once dipped into the tangy dip, they were brought to life. But, they had nothing on the Shredded Duck Tapas. Served with caramelised onion and a spicy cranberry sauce, its flavours erupted in my mouth. There was the sweetness from the tender, melt-in-your-mouth duck, the tanginess from the onion and the final kick from the cranberry. It was nothing short of beauty.
Defeated, I finally slumped into my chair, unzipped my jeans and let out a satisfied sigh. That’s when Kyle, the general manager came over.
‘Yes, it was amazing,’ I said, patting my belly.
‘Any room for dessert?’
‘No room,’ I groaned.
‘No room for freeze dried raspberries, meringue and vanilla cream?’
My ears pricked up. I suck my stomach in. ‘There may be a tiny amount of room.
He grinned and ordered me the Mexican Mess. When it arrived, my jaw dropped. On a long white plate was a beautiful pile of meringue, whipped vanilla mascarpone, mint leaves, mixed berries, prickly pear puree and even hibiscus flowers, soaked in syrup. Feeling like I was in a Marks and Spencer advert, I scooped up a spoonful and slowly put it in my mouth. Heaven. An Eton Mess with a twist, it was sweet, light and moreish – the perfect end to a vibrant, flavoursome night.
Where Las Iguanas was already good before, the few tweaks they have made to the menu, and the experiments they have made with their flavours, have made it that much better, making it the perfect destination no matter the occasion. Whether you are on a date, pre-drinking, having your 85th birthday party or just want to treat yourself, the Latin American way of life is your answer to a good time.
Vibrant, affordable and memorable. That’s the Las Iguanas’ way.
Photos: Emily Priest