This review was first published online at LDN Card. All words are my own.
It’s difficult to deny the popularity of Latin American chain Las Iguanas and with its vast, glass front, upstairs balcony and outside courtyard, London’s latest branch has been designed to please.
We arrive on a Friday evening and wait to be seated by a man at the door who seems somewhat preoccupied by his laptop. After a few minutes of awkward smiles, the man’s headphones emerge and we realise our maître d’ may in fact be a DJ. Considering Las Iguanas’ claim to ‘live for food’, eating doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s main agenda: even the dining area is tucked away upstairs, with plates vying for space on tables laden with pitchers from the seven-hour happy hour.
Unfortunately, ordering our own drinks is soberingly slow and by the time they arrive we are more than ready to order our – surprisingly expensive – mains: Fajitas with marinated strip-steak (£15.50) and a Hot Guyanese Pepperpot (£14.95). It’s not often a waitress warns you off a dish and her tentative description of the Pepperpot’s unusual ‘Christmassy’ ingredients should have set off warning bells. But I’m stubborn, and I order it anyway. What’s not to like about spicy ‘hot scotch-bonnet peppers… simmered slow with cloves, orange zest, cinnamon & lime juice’? A lot, it seems.
Our plates arrive far too quickly to convince anyone they are freshly prepared, with even the ‘home-made’ fajita dips of suspiciously supermarket appearance. The ‘sweet and spicy’ stew is void of any heat with the ‘chunky, succulent slow-braised mutton’ impressively bland given the thick, sickly sweet gravy it’s smothered in. Rescuing the mounds of rice from the overwhelmingly orange sauce is a cheerless exercise, with only two pieces of deliciously fried plantain saving the plate from an all-out fail. It really does taste as if the chef has given up on the cooking and followed everyone else to the bar, slopping some leftover orange juice in the pan to drown out the distinct lack of any other flavour.
My partner’s dish fares better, a sizzling plate of seared steak with onions and peppers served with soft wheat tortillas and dips. Appealingly presented and comparably edible, I’m not sure if the dry meat and predictable ‘special mix’ of flavours warrants its claim to be ‘famous’, but it’s difficult to go wrong with a basic Mexican wrap, even if Old El Paso could probably do a better job at home.
It’s by no means all bad. The service is friendly and there’s no questioning the infectious energy of the place. The price of the food is offset by the cheap booze, and the combination of music, cocktails and Mexican classics is always going to draw in the crowds. Las Iguanas might have set out to ‘bring food alive’, but somewhere along the line the emphasis on this has, regrettably, got a little lost in the mix.
Location: 1 Horner Square, Old Spitalfields Market, London, E1 6AA