Brighton is blessed with more independent restaurants than you can shake a proverbial stick at but – perhaps surprisingly for a city of our size – we’re somewhat lacking in terms of popular chains that can be found on literally every other high street in the UK.
There are lots of reasons for this which I can not only bore you with but also bore myself to tears with putting metaphorical pen-to-paper. Despite the general navel-gazing consensus that Brightonian’s are independent-minded consumers – in a nutshell, the primary one is that most of the city centre’s commercial property is made up of small and awkward grade-listed buildings made of bungaroosh that don’t have the requisite minimum of 70 covers that makes a multiple restaurant unviable.
Hence the chains that do manage to make Brighton their home are all fighting for the same spaces, typically in more modern developments.
Although now very much part of the fabric of the city, New Road, Jubilee Square and Jubilee Street were pretty revolutionary when they were redeveloped in the mid-to-late 2000s. It’s hard to believe now that Jubilee Square – where the central library and My Brighton hotel are located – just 20 years ago was a derelict rubble-strewn space that was used as a car park.
A few weeks ago, I was running an evening event in the city centre but I’d not had lunch and at around 4pm I had an hour-or-so to kill and my tummy was seriously rumbling and demanding ‘feed me’.
Perchance, I was walking past Las Iguanas – a restaurant I don’t recall visiting for at least five or six years – but with the lights twinkling and the tables heaving with diners, I popped in for a nosey. It looked cosy and – for once – this would be a Brighton restaurant where I could probably be completely anonymous whilst I fiddled with my laptop and refuelled.
I’m very happy that I did. For a starter, the welcome was exceptional and completely engaging, which goes to show that the staff clearly like working there.
For those not familiar with Las Iguanas, the offering is a somewhat eclectic menu of dishes from across the South American continent. It’s not a cuisine I have particularly extensive knowledge of however a pastiche of Mexico, Argentina and Brazil – adapted for the European palate – seems to dominate.
There’s an excellent choice of small dishes at around the £7-8 mark – perfect for a starter or sharing. I opted for the shrimp – a generous portion of juicy, shell-on prawns in a punchy ginger, coconut and lime sauce that was reminiscent of a red Thai curry.
The nacho sharer proved incredible value at £12.95 is perfect to enjoy with a friend. Proper fried corn tortillas smothered in spicy tomato salsa, guacamole, sour cream and cheese, and the all-important jalapeños. We added chilli con carne for an additional £3.50 and can report that our eyes were bigger than our bellies as we couldn’t finish it.
The fajita stack with chicken, prawn and beef steak was a sizzling joy to behold. Again, a generous portion of protein alongside various pots of dressing and soft tortillas. At £21.50, the price is not to be sniffed at.
There are lots of other main courses to choose from including Brazilian curries, various grilled meats and the obligatory selection of burgers.
All in, if you are sharing then I’d expect you’d be paying around £20-25 for food per head.
The cocktail menu is pretty epic – think mainly fun and fruity tropical drinks: daiquiri, margarita, rum sours, pina colada, caipirinha and the like. Priced at around £12-14, the best bit is it they have a buy-one-get-one-free deal running on most cocktails all day long. A sip or two will put you in mind of balmy beach holidays, which in the depths of a cold and damp December in Brighton is a congenial thought.
They also offer a two hour bottomless brunch from open until close on Sunday to Thursdays and during the day on Friday and Saturday. At £32.95, you can select unlimited small plates from the brunch menu and also quench your thirst with a choice of 12 popular cocktails plus a basic list of other drinks. It’s a fantastic – and no doubt very popular – idea for groups.
Las Iguanas is going through a major refurb in January to create a more contemporary and culturally relevant space including bespoke art from local street artists.
There’s nothing not to like about Las Iguanas. It’s fun, accessible, tasty and great value with generous portions at pocket friendly prices. I’ll definitely be back – it’s a restaurant with real heart and definitely one-to-watch in 2024.
Las Iguanas, 7-8 Jubilee Street, Brighton BN1 1GE
01273 063 264 • www.iguanas.co.uk