8 December 2006
Unit 14 Festival Walk, Royal Festival Hall
London, SE1 8XX
020 7620 1328
SOUTHBANK IS overflowing with hip lively restaurants dishing up decent food at mostly decent prices. Many could be lumped into the 'Euro Mediterranean' food basket but there is one fairly new addition that is adding a bit of salsa to the mix.
Slightly hidden by the current construction overwhelming the Royal Festival Hall district, Las Iguanas sits along the Southbank trail, perfectly located to catch both the local business population and wandering tourists.
This Latin food chain has a diverse menu encompassing the best of South and Central America, Spain and Portugal. Inevitably the starters (from £3.50) include favourites like tapas or nachos and the salads (from £7) also all have Latino flair.
With just one look at the Las Iguanas menu, it's easy to see that the powers that be designed this eatery to cover all bases. The idea was cooked up and put into action in 1991 with the idea of offering a little Latin flavoured escapism to the London dinner crowds.
Link number eleven on the Las Iguanas chain, this Royal Festival Hall location opened at the end of summer but seems to have already attracted hoards of diners. We dined in on a wintery Monday night to find a full house.
It's the place to go at any time of the day from midday onwards for either a drink or three-course meal. With a reasonably priced lunch offer (£7 plus £1.50 for a glass of wine or beer) that includes sandwiches, salads and some mains at lunchtime sizes, Latino pastries for afternoon tea (from £1.80), tapas to snack on during happy hour and a diverse selection of dinnertime mains, it would seem management has tried to appeal to all tastes.
Whether it was the weather, or because we wanted to spice up our dinner hour, my fellow diner and I both snapped up the two popular Brazilian specialties. The Moqueca, a deliciously mild creamy coconut curry of peppers, tomatoes, garlic and palm oil accompanied by rice has two versions; sweet potato, palm hearts and sugar snap peas (£8.50) or mussels, tiger prawns, baby squid and salmon (£10.50).
The other tried and tested recipe - straight from Brazil - was the Xinxim (£9.80). Although difficult to pronounce, it's definitely much easier to eat. Not only the favourite of our friendly waiter, Xinxim with its Brazilian lime chicken in a creamy crayfish and peanut sauce is also the favourite of footballing great, Pele.
Both dishes were brought out still simmering over candlelight in their own individual terracotta pots. The heart-warming mains are more than generous portions, leaving the diner perhaps feeling a little guilty for not clearing their plate.
But the guilt doesn't really set in until the dessert round. The choices are rich but are wickedly delicious. We indulged in the chocolate banoffi pie (£4.50) and the intriguingly named Ipanema mess (£3.80), an unforgettable dessert dressed up in a martini glass and made up of creamy mascarpone, guava, raspberry and crushed meringue.
For those with less of a sweet tooth and more of a cocktail predilection, the Las Iguanas bar is the place to hit for pre or post dinner drinks and claims to be the hot spot for a true Caipirinha. So, until the Royal Festival Hall gets back on its feet, there is still a place to go for a fiesta.
FOOD (1-5) 3.5
AMBIENCE (1-5) 4
VALUE FOR MONEY (1-5) 4
DISABLED ACCESS YES
DISABLED TOILET YES
PRE BOOKING YES
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