‘Maybe try strapping your reservation to a carrier pigeon a week in advance’, writes Gaby Soutar, as she reviews the latest addition to the George Street eateries
The iguana is a lizard with a row of spines, resembling a coiffed Mohican, along its back. So, is it a coincidence that chain restaurant, Las Iguanas, has opened its 39th UK branch in the former premises of hairdressers Toni & Guy?
I think not, especially as I had a choppy haircut there once and, it did, indeed, make me look slightly reptilian. Or maybe it’s just that I had especially dry skin that day.
Incidentally, it was another hairdresser who told me about this Latin American eatery. The main appeal seemed to be the cocktails, some of which, including the pisco sour, are £3.90 all day Sunday to Wednesday.
However, bagging a table proved tricky. You can’t book lunch online, so I gave them a bell and eventually got through after a few attempts.
“Let me phone you back, because only my manager can take bookings,” said the voice on the end of the line, after me spelling out all my details. They didn’t return my call (but I’ll probably be on the mailing list now).
We visited in person. “Have you booked?” she said. Well, we’d tried. “I’ll see if we can fit you in.”
They could eventually – hoorah - but what a rigmarole, and you’d WANT to secure a table, as this place is on busy George Street.
Maybe try strapping your reservation to a carrier pigeon a week in advance.
The decor is groovy, with lots of wood and contemporary light fittings, but in a similar vein to what they’re doing in other chains, like Nando’s and Chimichangas. Is it cynical to wonder if a psychologist/interior designer has been given a brief to make people feel more relaxed and, thus, willing to part with their cash? I clutched my wallet tighter.
To start, we went Brazilian, with the bolinhos de bacalhau (£5.60), and Mexican, with fish tacos (£5.60).
Both were rather generic. The four cod balls were crispy, with coatings that were fried to a teak shade, but the core was very dull. There was mashed fish, maybe a bit of chive and potato. They tasted about as exotic as a rainy Thursday afternoon in Leith.
Although the strips of fish in the tacos were covered in a very wet and undercooked batter, this dish was fine, with transparent slices of pink pickled onion, rocket, coriander, sweetcorn and a lime wedge, with two compact-disc sized wraps to package things up.
According to the menu, Pele is a fan of the main course that sounded like a Las Vegas magician – The Extraordinary Xinxim (£12.95).
This was a decent dish, with loads of chicken and crayfish bits in a thick, slightly floury, but salty and sweet lime and peanut sauce.
It came with a plateful of, mostly pointless, sides: “garlic rice” (tasted like plain white to me), two burnished nuggets of plantain, a handful of unseasoned green beans and some “coconut farofa” (aka flavourless breadcrumb dust).
The vatapa gambas (£12.95) came with similar accompaniments, except the plantain had been replaced by black bean fritters, which tasted as anodyne as air or morning dew. However, the prawny curry itself had a mild, coconuty, satay-ish brown-green sauce and a generous population of sea creatures.
It was amusing how keen they were to give us the burners – candles in terracotta pots – to go with our mains. “Are you sure you can’t have them?” they kept asking. “They keep the dishes warm.” We had a naughty baby and a mischievous toddler at our table. If we’d given in, there would definitely have been some kind of Guy Fawkes meets Joan of Arc scenario. With my predilection for artificial fibres, I would be the first to go up in flames.
For pudding, the capirotada (£4.90) – a Mexican take on bread and butter pudding – was a hunk of cinnamon-injected, syrup-topped raisin-studded squelchyness, while a triangle of dulce de leche and peanut topped cheesecake (£5.25) was as satisfyingly unsophisticated as you might imagine.
Good sugar high, but is this a wonderful restaurant? Nope, the food is lacking in soul. Is it a decent chain restaurant? Yep, it’s up there with Pizza Express, Jamie’s Italian and wotnot. And they get an extra point for our brilliant waiter, Ramsay, who deserved more of a tip than I could squirrel together.
If you want to visit, deploy your carrier pigeon now. VERDICT
Lunch for two, excluding drinks, £47.25
141 George Street, Edinburgh
(0131-226 2107, www.iguanas.co.uk)