Las Iguanas

May 24, 2014 at 4:48 pm | Posted in Restaurants | Leave a comment
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With Sheffield enjoying a three-day heat wave recently, it was too nice to sit indoors – in other words, it was beer garden o’clock! However, after the beer garden high, comes the inevitable post-beer munchies. After an afternoon of sitting in the sun, me and my beer garden partner in crime were in the mood for cuisine from a warmer climate, so the Latin-themed Las Iguanas seemed ideal.

Las Iguanas is situated in the swanky West One Plaza, which is basically a courtyard dedicated to my two favourite pursuits: eating and drinking. On this sunny Saturday afternoon, West One Plaza was packed with people swigging cold beverages, eating good food, queueing outside LOL Bubble Tea, and generally enjoying being outside without shivering/getting rained on. It almost seemed a shame to be heading indoors, even if it was to enjoy some tasty grub.

This was my first ever visit to Las Iguanas, and initial impressions were good. It’s a light, airy venue, with a carnival feel thanks to all the bright colours – from the mosaic tables and funky, patterned furnishings; to the shiny red bar trimmed with LED lights; to the wall covered in a hodgepodge of multi-coloured picture frames. Las Iguanas also pull a clever trick with a mirrored wall, which makes the place feel much bigger than it actually is.

Las Iguanas

We were greeted by a very friendly member of staff, who offered us the lunchtime and the evening menu – oh, and would we like to see the vegan and vegetarian menu, too? In most restaurants, veggies are lucky if they get three meals to choose from, and vegans usually get even less. Las Iguanas may not immediately spring to mind when you think about veggie and vegan-friendly venues, but it actually has one of the most impressive vegan/vegetarian menus I’ve encountered in a “mainstream” restaurant. Many of the dishes are gluten free, too.

Obviously, there’s some overlap between menus. The lunch menu is pretty much just a pared-down version of the dinner menu, and the vegan and vegetarian menu is the dinner menu, with the meat and seafood removed. But, even with all this duplication, you’ll still be completely spoilt for choice.

The trio of menus covers all those tried-and-tested favourites – quesadillas, fajitas, enchiladas, burritos, patatas bravas, and chilli con carne, to just name a few. Or, if you fancy trying something new, there’s dishes that make use of more unusual ingredients, such as plantain, truffle salsa, palm hearts, and a very intriguing-sounding peanut and crayfish sauce.

In the interests of trying as much of this massive menu as possible, we decided to share some starters. After much deliberation, we narrowed our selection down to the Tip Top Chipotle Whitebait (£4.50), and Calamares (£5.70).

Our food order was taken by one of the friendliest waitresses I’ve ever met, who wasted no time drawing our attention to the 2-for-1 offer on cocktails, something we hadn’t previously noticed. In light of this revelation, it only seemed fitting to order some cocktails. When it comes to booze, Las Iguanas doesn’t disappoint: they provide choice, and lots of it.

The cocktail menu includes all the usual suspects you tend to find in restaurants, but it also features some more exotic concoctions, such as a Columbian Cafe, Bronx Bebida, and a Jam Slam. In the end, we settled on a pair of Long Island Iced Teas (£6.75 per glass, or 2-for-1 Wednesday-Sunday, before 7.30 p.m).

Long Island Iced Tea

Our matching pair of Long Island Iced Teas tasted every bit as good as they looked. They had a refreshing lemon sting, and packed a boozy punch – exactly what you want from a Long Island Iced Tea.

Our starters arrived shortly after, which was a good job, because these Long Island Iced Teas were strong. The Calamares is a portion of whole baby squid, tentacles and all, coated in crispy batter. Don’t let the long, curly tentacles put you off; they actually pack a satisfying crunch and give you the chance to really appreciate that salt-and-pepper batter. The meatier, non-tentacle parts of the baby squid were juicy, and not in the least bit rubbery.

The Calamares came with a creamy dip, which had a subtle, spicy afterburn. The squid was delicious on its own, but this dip really sealed the deal. I suddenly regretted agreeing to share the starters!

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The Tip Top Chipotle Whitebait was covered in a very light, almost flaky batter, and the whitebait themselves were nicely cooked. However, the accompanying dips missed the mark: the sour cream was too thin, and the salsa lacked any kind of kick. We had to resort to the bottle of Cholula on the table; a few splashes of this bottled hot sauce delivered more flavour than the salsa and sour cream combined.

Whitebait

Onto the mains, and despite the hot weather, I hadn’t been able to resist the curry on Las Iguanas’ menu. The ‘Bahia Moqueca’ promised a creamy coconut curry, served with plantain, spicy aji and toasted coconut farofa sprinkles, plus spring onion and garlic rice. Las Iguanas can make your Bahia Moqueca with fish and peeled prawns (£12.95) or squash, palm hearts and spinach (£10.95). Despite my love of seafood, I’d never had palm hearts before, so I went with the veggie option.

As soon as I caught sight of my food, I knew I was in for a treat. Las Iguanas’ Bahia Moqueca is a meal of two halves; the first is a plateful of chunky aji, toasted coconut sprinkles, sweet and sticky plantain, and garlic and spring onion rice.

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The second part of the meal, is the curry itself.

Bahia Moqueca

Based on the menu’s description, I was expecting the Bahia Moqueca to be similar to a korma or maybe even a Thai green curry, but it was so much better than either of those. The sauce tasted strongly of coconut, but it also had a sour edge to it. This lingering, sharp aftertaste was an unexpected, but very welcome surprise. As much as I enjoy pigging out on creamy curries, the richness of the coconut can become overpowering after a while. The Bahia Moqueca’s tartness helped to keep things fresh and interesting. If you love coconut, or have a soft spot for sour flavours, then this is the meal for you!

The palm hearts that convinced me to order the vegetarian Bahia Moqueca in the first place, turned out to be almost completely tasteless. However, they did have a really different, woody texture, and the rings of palm heart looked fantastic floating on top of the curry, so I can understand why Las Iguanas included them in the Bahia Moqueca.

When it came to the extra bits and bobs that arrived with my Bahia Moqueca, my favourite was the aji, which reminded me of a chunky, homemade salsa, only it was vinegary, rather than spicy. The plantains were sticky and gooey, and brought a burst of sweetness to the Bahia Moqueca. However, the garlic and spring onion rice just tasted like coconut. I enjoyed the creamy rice, but I found it strange that I couldn’t taste any garlic or spring onion at all.

The Bahia Moqueca is easily one of the best meals I’ve had recently. It was so good that, despite Las Iguanas’ massive menu, it’ll be tough to resist ordering this again on my next visit!

The other main meal winging its way to our table, was everyone’s favourite Mexican street food; the Burrito. At Las Iguanas, burrito lovers have a choice of fillings: garlic mushrooms and vegetarian chilli (£9.95); smoked chipotle chicken (£10.95); or barbeque and jalapeno shredded steak (£10.95). My dining companion opted for the shredded steak.

Steak burrito

The burrito was a good size, especially considering the steak filling, and it came with a few of Las Iguanas’ added extras. On the upside, this meant more of that tongue-tingling aji and rich rice, but unfortunately it also saw the return of the bland sour cream and chipotle sauce combo.

The burrito itself was jam-packed with steak, which fell apart in a way not dissimilar to pulled pork. Despite enthusing about the tenderness of the steak, my dining companion didn’t get any hint of cheese or jalapeno, both of which appeared on the menu. They were also surprised that the burrito contained nothing but shredded steak and refried beans – no tomatoes, rice, onions, peppers, or any of that other good stuff you usually find in burritos (or maybe the Great Gatsby has spoiled us, when it comes to burritos?)

Las Iguanas deserve top marks for the venue, the friendly and helpful staff, and the sheer scope of their cocktail and food menus. Any venue where you’re handed three different food menus on your way in, is off to a good start. Las Iguanas also strike a good balance between unusual dishes, and crowd-pleasing classics. Although we weren’t completely sold on the steak burrito, the calamari and curry were both fantastic, and there’s plenty of other dishes on the menu that I can’t wait to try. We’ll definitely be back!

four-stars

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