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Saturday
May252013

Review: Las Iguanas

More than Mushrooms recently visited Las Iguanas – a chain of Latin American restaurants with branches across the UK.

We had initially been encouraged to try it out because, although it’s not a wholly-vegetarian restaurant, it appears to have one of the largest veggie menus of the chain-restaurants we’ve seen. It’s unusual to find a mainstream restaurant that really puts the effort in when catering for veggies, so to hear that Las Iguanas not only has a separate veggie & vegan menu, but that they also take care to use veggie griddles and separate fryers, use vegetable stock and vegetarian cheese, and that they avoid using gelatine in their desserts, was such a nice surprise.

Our visit

We visited the Liverpool branch on a very busy Thursday evening, and even though the restaurant was full we received a very friendly welcome and our greeter took the time to explain the menu to us, tell us about any offers that were available, and to ask if we would like a copy of the veggie & vegan menu. It was a real treat to be offered a separate veggie menu, as it takes the guesswork out of ordering, but all of the vegan and veggie options are also included on the main menu and clearly labelled as such. The menus also clearly label which items are gluten-free, which contain nuts, and which contain alcohol.

Our waiter was friendly and helpful, offering suggestions when we deliberated between dishes, and while we never felt like we had been forgotten, nor did we feel that the service was in any way intrusive. It can be a difficult balance to strike in a very busy restaurant like this, but we certainly felt like we were attended to efficiently, without ever feeling rushed.

What we ate

Starter

We shared three tapas dishes to start:

  • Empanadas: Two brie & mango-filled crispy pasties with corn and sweet chilli salsa
  • Quesadilla: Tortilla, folded, char-grilled, with guajillo chilli mushroom, truffle & brie, with a home-made tomato salsa
  • Lechuga Rellenos: Little gem lettuce leaves filled with oven-roasted tomatoes, feta and coriander, with fresh herb chimichurri and sweet chilli & beetroot salsa

Main

  • Chimichanga: Tortilla parcel packed with roast butternut squash, cream cheese, spinach, fine beans and chickpeas, with tomato salsa, guacamole, soured cream, spring onion, garlic & coriander rice, and refried beans

Dessert

  • Aztec Chocolate Fudge Cake: Warm spiced chocolate-orange sponge cake, with vanilla ice cream

The menu includes a selection of veggie starters, including more familiar Mexican dishes such as bread & olives, nachos or tacos, or, like us, you can opt for some of the tapas dishes as a starter. There are also plenty of main courses to choose from, whether you go for one of the ‘Mexican Classics’ or something a bit more unusual ‘From Brazil and Beyond’, and an equally interesting selection of side dishes includes, patatas bravas, plantain, corn on the cob, cassava fries and black bean fritters.

I love Latin American food, but if I have a criticism of this kind of restaurant it can be that often the veggie options all consist of tortillas with a similar filling, rolled or stuffed in a slightly different way! However, that criticism doesn't apply here, as Las Iguanas genuinely has a proper selection of different veggie dishes that are interesting and appealing.

The three tapas dishes we shared were all delicious, fresh-tasting, and combined interesting flavour-combinations. Veggies often get served pretty boring options, but all of these dishes were imaginative and unusual enough to make it worth eating out. (After all, there’s nothing worse than going out to dinner only to be served a really uninspiring dish which you could replicate, and even improve upon, at home!) The Latin influence also meant that the food generally had a bit of a kick, which lifted the flavour of the dishes, but managed not to be overpowering, for this chilli-shy diner!

The only minor drawback to having all of this choice, is that the tables for two are a little bit snug for laying out several tapas dishes at once!

The main-course chimichanga was also a very tasty version, not stodgy but filling, and with the nice addition of roasted butternut squash. The accompanying rice was fluffed-up to perfection and the refried beans were delicate and not at all like wallpaper-paste (a criticism my dining-companion usually levels at all refried beans, so this is high praise indeed!)

All of the dishes were also beautifully presented and it is clear that Las Iguanas makes an effort not to scrimp on the extras that make dining-out so much fun – for example, our dishes came variously with tomato salsa, guacamole, beetroot salsa, aioli, soured cream, herb chimichurri, and corn & sweet chilli salsa – all of which we really enjoyed.

It was a real pleasure to see that the desserts were all vegetarian, and so, even though we were both full, we shared some chocolate fudge cake. This was no ordinary chocolate cake though, being orange-y and warmly-spiced, but still chocolate-y enough to satisfy a chocoholic. There was also a great selection of coffees, cocktails and other alcoholic drinks to choose from, but by this time we needed to be rolled out of the place, so we’ll have to try them next time!

The verdict

  • Friendly, efficient service
  • Fresh, tasty food, made with quality ingredients
  • A genuinely interesting and diverse selection of veggie and vegan options

I would visit Las Iguanas again without hesitation and, on the basis of this visit, would recommend it to other veggies. Even with veggie choices improving all the time, it is still refreshing to find a chain of restaurants that takes the time and effort to cater for vegetarians and vegans as well as Las Iguanas does, and I am already looking forward to my next visit.

Las Iguanas' website is www.iguanas.co.uk

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