Review – Las Iguanas
Las Iguanas occupies a vast site on Jubilee Street, vying for custom against other big brands such Pizza Express, Carluccios and Yo Sushi. I’ve walked past on countless occasions and the bar and restaurant are always packed. On such a competitive stretch of the Laines, surely they must be doing something right?
Latin influenced dishes
We started with a couple of the tapas dishes, priced at £5.70 each. ‘Pato Taquito’, (little duck tortillas for those of you who didn’t pay attention in Spanish class) wrapped in a soft tortilla then given the panini machine treatment, were crisp and smoky on the outside. The duck filling was rich, well spiced and tender with a decent kick of chilli. I’ll gloss over the ridiculous bunch of parsley shoved on top as ‘garnish’.
Also successful was one of the new offerings from their spring menu, Empanadas. These were filled with ‘tender lamb braised in mint, tomato and chipotle’. The lamb (I’m guessing shoulder) was intensely savoury with just a hint of said mint, but unfortunately lacking any sweet smokiness from chipotle chillies. Pastry was as it should be; fried to crispy perfection, none of that baked nonsense. This is street food (or at least a highly commercialised chain restaurant version), after all.
To go with our tapas we ordered a couple of sides; partly in the name of research, but also in a bid to combat the delicious 2-for-1 caipirinhas and margaritas.
We chose ‘Holy Guacamole’ (£4), a make-it-yourself-at-the-table affair. “What fun!”, I hear you cry. What a total waste of time. I assume the idea behind this is to be able to adjust the flavours of this classic, vibrant dish to your own taste; perhaps ramping up the chilli or adding scurvy-busting quantities of lime juice? And this might work, were we not presented with a plate full of unseasoned, very tired ingredients (no chilli in sight) in such measly quantities that any opportunity for customisation was denied from the offset. Ah well, perhaps they’d let me have a stab at making a cocktail behind the bar instead…
Dips (3 for £1.50) were also disappointing. Chimichurri should be freshly made, punchy with garlic, vinegar, chilli and herbs; this was dull, lifeless and tasted like slightly jazzy mint sauce from a jar. Pico de gallo was freshly made, but lacking in and vibrancy or chilli heat. The corn and sweet chilli salsa was exactly that; tinned sweetcorn mixed with sweet chilli sauce. Lacklustre and bland. The spice dusted corn chips however were well-seasoned and robust. Luckily they didn’t need any help from the dips.
For the main course, my dining partner chose chicken fajitas (£14.50, ouch). The chicken was served on one of those ‘theatrical’ sizzling platters that ceased to be impressive in the early nineties. It staggers me that restaurants haven’t worked out that sending meat from the kitchen on a piece of near-molten metal only serves to continue the cooking process long after it has left the pass.
But perhaps I’m being too cynical. Could it be that the chefs deliberately send out the chicken half-cooked, confident that the walk from the kitchen to the table has been timed to perfection, thus presenting us with perfectly cooked chicken? And that all of our ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’/frantic Instagramming will last a precise amount of time, allowing the meat to rest to juicy perfection? Ultimately the fajitas were passable; lightly spiced chicken, onions, peppers. Nothing new. But at nearly fifteen pounds you’d expect those sizzles to end in fireworks.
I chose the beef burrito (£10.95) for a couple of reasons; firstly because it was one of the new items from the Spring menu (which we were there specifically to review), but also because I really know my burritos. Unlucky for them. The menu promised great things: a tortilla filled with ‘shredded beef braised in chipotle’, rice, refried beans, pickled cucumber, crunchy slaw and crumbly cheese (gotta love a generic dairy product).
I was presented with a huge, soggy tortilla filled with a mass of bland beef, so overworked that it had no discernible texture. I picked it apart and found the odd grain of rice, but no trace of any of the other aforementioned fillings. Mexican food should make your palate sing, not leave you feeling heavy and sluggish.
I opted for churros with dulce de leche for dessert (3 for £3.50); a great street food dish that I love to make but try to avoid at home (deep frying doesn’t make for a nice-smelling house). I should have guessed that these wouldn’t have been made from scratch, but rather a classic chain restaurant freezer-to-fryer dish (easy to tell, the shape was far too uniform). The oil in the fryers clearly wasn’t hot enough- the churros were worryingly pale on the outside and explicably raw in the centre.
Oh, and if I see another completely pointless sprig of mint on a dessert I might start throwing things.
Whilst an attempt has been made to showcase some traditional dishes (first time I’ve seen Brazilian XimXim on a menu on these shores), the food completely lacks the authentic flair that makes Latin American cuisine so exciting, and some menu items are simply bizarre. Las Iguanas describes their food as a ‘mouth-watering confusion of native Latin American Indian, Spanish, Portuguese and African influences’.
Sadly the only word that resonates is ‘confusion’.
Las Iguanas, 7-8 Jubilee Street, Brighton – 01273 573550
Rich’s food and drink were complimentary courtesy of Las Iguanas.