"Chirpy Latino action on the Southbank"Review Rating: Reviewed by Matthew B
My visit to Las Iguanas on the Southbank comes at the same time as the skateboard area at the Undercroft is threatened by the impending redevelopment of the Southbank Centre. The arguments hinge over whether more retail outlets are necessary.
Of course, this question has already been answered with a range of shops and restaurants along Belvedere Road. One of these – in a plum position on a raised walkway corner near Hungerford Bridge opposite the Royal Festival Hall - is Las Iguanas.
This is a branch of a national chain of Latin-style restaurants, the others in London located in Stratford Westfield and The O2. I have visited the Festival Hall branch twice before, which is perhaps some kind of validation of the power of location, location, location. I’m not normally a massive fan of chain restaurants, but when friends have been in town visiting, have their kids in tow and you are all having a meander along the river, you don’t want to stray far or go somewhere too tricky for a mixed party. This is where joints like Las Iguanas come into their own.
It’s a lively spot, with an alfresco seating area attracting drinkers and smokers (even on the cold day we visited), and a bar for cocktails, so it’s a bit of a multi-functional place. The interior is divided into a ground floor level with orange corner sofas, and the split-level lower area under the railway arch which is dimly lit and more suited to a sit-down meal. The not unpleasant occasional rumble of a train overhead reminds you of where you are.
The menu is one of those very wide-ranging, mucho choice affairs, with all the cuisines listed across one large place mat size piece of paper. We started with two different types of margarita (not at once): a smoked one and a coconut variety, both good. They’re great value from £6.20, and there are happy hours on some drinks every day. They also do excellent value lunch deals from £5 (or £6.90 for two courses).
There are plenty of sharing, dipping things, and the starters are a bit like tapas. Calamares had a nice crunchy batter; fish tacos were tasty with a few good chunks of battered white fish filling the tortillas. Jumping regions to Patagonia, our lovely lamb albondigas (meatballs) in sauce were reminiscent of a roast dinner - it must have been the addition of mint sauce. I can only guess that this may have some connection to the Welsh communities in the Argentinian region, I’d like to think there is a link. Sadly, no iguana dishes made it to the menu.
On my previous visits I had been drawn to the Brazilian section - the coconut crumbs, plantain, peanut sauces and lime chicken of Xinxim seemed more exotic than the usual Mexican enchiladas and burritos - in London a much more popular and ubiquitous cuisine than Brazilian. So I, er...decided to do the same this time, and opted for feijoada de puerco, a dark stew of braised beef, chorizo and pork shoulder (with coconut crumbs) that is the national dish of Brazil. It was nice enough, but I recall enjoying the lime chicken more in the past. At the opposite end of the taste spectrum was the crayfish and sweet chilli sauce salad, crisp and fresh.
There’s a ton of other stuff on the menu, from barbacoa grill dishes to burgers; if you are one of those people who prefers less choice, this may put you off. Overall Las Iguanas is definitely one of the better chains out there.
Matthew B reviewed Las Iguanas on Mon 29 Apr 2013