Reviewed by Oli Justice
Not so long ago, the thought of trying to find somewhere to eat in Exeter would quite genuinely pain me. Come the weekend, you’d find yourself in the same restaurants, eating the same dishes (or thereabouts) and having the same conversations about what the city really needs: some fresh faces on the dining scene.
Fortunately, those days are over. Now you’ll find more or less everything on and around the high street and recently I checked out the best place to go if more or less everything is exactly what you’re looking for.
Las Iguanas made it’s home on Queen Street sometime ago now, taking the place of the formerly iconic Pitcher and Piano and, unlike some of the mega-brands we’ve seen come and go from the City Centre over the years, it would seem that these guys are here to stay.
The menu is nuts – and not necessarily in a particularly good way. Admittedly, I’m useless if given too much choice when eating out, so Las Iguanas’ multi-page dossier of dishes from around the world was almost my idea of a complete nightmare.
Offering a comprehensive tip of the hat to the hard-hitting culinary contributors of South America’s distinguished interpretation of flavour and spice; expect rich curries from Brazil, a familiar line up of classics from Mexico, and lively alternatives to steak and fries from Argentina. Welcome to the party a host of sides and salad-inspired dishes from ‘Peru & beyond’ and you have yourself a almost a dozen pages to get stuck in to.
Characteristically unable to make a decision, I decided that my best bet was to try a handful of smaller plates from the tapas menu, which is available in 3’s (£15.95) and 5’s (£25.95) until 7pm everyday, all day Sunday and Monday. Despite reducing the task significantly, I still couldn’t make up my mind, so I asked our server to chose 5 of his favourite dishes.
Credit it where it’s due, the restaurant should be proud of the guy – he knows his menu. A short while later, an onslaught of South American scoff descended on our table. From ‘fall off the bone’ bbq and Havana Rum pork ribs to ‘Pli’s Prawn Pastels’ (incredible pasty-like parcels crammed full with juicy prawns and laced with coconut, mint and rosemary), we were genuinely impressed with the quality and variety of the feast.
Other key players included nachos heaped with delicious chilli beef and chicken, crunchy cubes of fried cheese with a chilli jam in which to dip them (Dadinhos) and delicious roasted duck and cranberry sauce encased in soft floury tortillas (Pato Taquito).
Personally, I’m a huge fan of the tapas concept and I’d probably go as far as to say that I’d happily take a handful of smaller plates over a traditional course-by-course meal and this is almost certainly the way to go at Las Iguanas. Sure, the menu is vast, but some of it looks mind-blowingly tasty. With so much variety and so much to try, the best way to get a good idea of what this restaurant has to offer is to favour quantity and to mix it up.
AT THE BAR
Whilst the food really should take centerstage, it’s challenged enthusiastically by an impressive cocktail list. Sadly, I had to drive, but our host put together a couple of his favourites to try. Check out the ‘Smoking Plums’ if deeper tones and cinnamon are your thing, but for those with a sweeter disposition – we’d go for the ‘Caribbean Clover Club’. Whats more – boys and girls please enjoy this little tip responsibly – at Las Iguanas it’s happy hour all day, every day, so you can try twice as many as cocktails, twice as quickly!
Las Iguanas, 79-81, Queen St, Exeter EX4 3RP; www.iguanas.co.uk