Las Iguanas has been open just over a year now since it took over its prime spot on Queen St. after Pitcher & Piano abandoned it. After extensive works, which included stripping back the years of ‘super quick renovations’ to reveal the original flooring, the restaurant opened to a fanfare of Mexican goodness. Initially the first few months were a little shaky, and Trip Advisor was unforgiving…but time has passed and now a year on, the greased and smooth running that we saw on our visit makes me feel that this isn’t an issue anymore.
Eating Exeter was lucky enough to be invited down to sample their new Winter Menu. We popped in on Tuesday night to catch the Happy Hour cocktails, and after that? Thankfully I didn’t drink that much…and I have notes.
It is a large menu, (not the lunch menu) given it takes dishes from Mexico and Brazil. We needed a good 10 minutes to actually go through and really take in what we could have. Being a Latin Restaurant we had the choice of going for Tapas should we wish and they do a rather nice deal, 3 dishes for £14.40 or 5 for £24.00, which equates to just over £4 per serving. I can’t comment whether this is good value as I didn’t have it, but compared to other places in Exeter this is a good price for small plates of Latin food.
The thing that stood out for me was the happy hour. The Cocktails sounded fun and there was a lot of choice again. During happy hour, two of the same cocktails or coolers for £6.80 (£3.40 per cocktail?). The prospect of a cheeky post-work cocktail was sold and you could now very well find me in there most nights sipping on such classics as a CUBAN CHERRY (Havana Club 3 year old rum, cherry brandy, maraschino liqueur, lime, almond syrup, a little sugar & a cocktail cherry) or a BLOODY CARIOCA (Bloody Mary, re-invented, the spicy classic with a Brazilian twist, made with their own Magnifica cachaca & passion fruit). Yes these guys have their own plantation where they make their very own Cachaca (if you’re not sure what it is look here).
In the end, and on the advice of my resident cocktail expert we had a CANA ROYALE (Las Iguanas Magnifica cachaça, raspberry liqueur & Bottlegreen elderflower, topped with Cava) which definitely had a good kick to it.
After a long examination of the menu, which wasn’t helped by the fact the cocktail went straight to my head, we finally made up our minds. The tapas wasn’t really doing much for me and I was in the mood for chicken so inevitably it was going to be the CHURRASCO FIASCO which is skewered chicken “Marinated & flame-grilled, with honey peri-peri sauce, salad & cassava fries.” At this point I wasn’t really sure what a cassava was so I was expecting a big bowl of fries and being the first time I had actually had cassava I wasn’t sure what to expect. My resident cocktail expert Tori had CHIMICHANGA which was a “Crisp tortilla parcel, delivered with home-made tomato salsa, guacamole, soured cream, spring onion & garlic, rice & refried beans” stuffed with “Mexican smoked chipotle chicken, onion & cheese”.
We didn’t have to wait long, but the short wait was when I could really take in what was happening around me. For a Tuesday night it was busy, after chatting to Tim the manager after the meal it seems that this follows the trend at the moment. To get a table end of the week at Las Iguanas you need to book, it is popular and for somewhere less than a year old, this showed that something was right. Yes… It is a chain, a corporate brand, but speaking to a couple of what I have come to call ‘Iguanas-heads’ it seems that each restaurant is quite different. It seems that Las Iguanas is definitely doing something right at this restaurant, and with the Dining Quarter opening over the road next year, the impression I got was that they weren’t worried. And after all, how many other chains do what Las Iguanas do?
The food came pretty quickly, the visual presentation was good and the portion size seemed average (nothing spilling off the plate), I felt it was just enough. My chicken was perfectly cooked, it didn’t go dry throughout the whole meal and the salad was the dressed well. Having thought I was going to receive a bowl of fries, the Cassava fries were a suprise (it even rhymes). Three large fries but cooked in a way that left the inside soft and fluffy whilst retaining a crispy coating that worked really well. For an added bonus some of the dressing from the salad made its way in to the bottom of the fries which then soaked up some of the dressing. I’m not sure if this was intentional but for me it was a really good combination and worked together. The Chimachanga was well received from the other side of the table, the black refried beans were well balanced with the chicken inside the package. As is always the case Tori’s looked nicer than mine.
Given we didn’t have starters we decided to hit the pudding and coffees that Las Iguanas offer. The pudding section of the menu was quite well sized but then in these times of belt-tightening and diets there are few places that have large pudding menus. Also kudos to Las Iguanas for calling it ‘Pudding’. It is one of my favourite words.
I went for the Creamy Caramel Cake (with Tres Leches. Layers of soaked sponge & caramelised cream, drizzled with dulce de leche. Topped with more caramelised cream & blueberries) which was the least latin sounding thing available, but then it had the word caramel in it which is normally a sure fire guarantee that I’ll choose it.
This was an amazing tasting flourish to the end of our meal. It made up for the fact that the coffees that came out were lukewarm, the chocolate-fest Aztec Chocolate Fudge Cake that was being devoured with many approving noises on the other side of the table and tasted as nice as mine. It was a shame that there was nothing overly Latin American sounding in the pudding menu, but by the time I finished my Creamy Caramel Cake I really didn’t care.
Two meals, a cocktail, two coffees and two desserts came to just under £50 which is reasonable for a meal out in Exeter. They’re not trying to be a discount Mexican as they care about the ingredients and the experience of the diner and I wouldn’t walk in and expect anything else. The fact that they seem to have a bit of a cult following must mean they’re doing something right, and if the rest of the food on the menu was as well cooked as my chicken then you would be crazy not to give it a go. The drinks were lovely, and our waiter’s accent was nearly as delicious as the food (Fernando, I nearly got you to read me the entire menu!) and thats coming from a married man…