I went to see John Mayer at the O2 Arena last week with a friend and we’d planned to get dinner beforehand. The O2 arena has a plethora of chain restaurants, no doubt all owned by the same small handful of companies, but many of which do have quite a decent vegan offering – good to know you definitely won’t go hungry if you’re attending an event here. We decided on Las Iguanas, and by the time we sat down the support act was well underway and there was about an hour until JM was supposed to start his set.
I’d had a look at the menu in advance and it looked really good, but was pretty disappointed once we’d been seated to be presented with their ‘event day’ reduced set menu at around £17 for two courses (I ended up paying about £26 including one drink and tip). Lots of the delicious sounding vegan options that I’d seen online weren’t available, but we had committed and didn’t really have time to change our minds at this point. They couldn’t provide me with the separate vegan menu but were happy to talk through all the suitable options on this one, as well as any swaps they could make.
I ended up ordering the nachos without cheese or sour cream, and the portobello mushroom fajitas. The portion of nachos was huge – probably enough food alone to have kept me going to be honest. They tasted fine, but with the lack of non-vegan toppings they were a bit dry and could’ve done with some extra salsa or guacamole to compensate. I was really happy when the fajitas arrived to see that they’d done exactly that with my main, replacing two of the little accompanying pots with extra vegan fillings. The meal came with four flour tortillas and a huge dish full of mushrooms, onions, and peppers. The mushroom mixture was one of the nicest things I’ve eaten in a chain restaurant, I only wish I hadn’t filled myself up with all the nachos. Worse still, John Mayer was due on stage in 20 minutes and our main course had only just come out. My friend had ordered the fajitas too so we were panic filling our wraps as fast as possible – not the most enjoyable experience! I left a lot of my veg and two of my wraps as I just didn’t have time to eat them, which was pretty devastating knowing how much I was paying for them.
In the end, John Mayer was 15 minutes late coming on stage, and after getting through the long queue at the airport-style security at the O2, we just managed to get to our seats as the event started. But back to the food; I went to London the following week for a conference with work, and decided I wanted to give those fajitas another go (because they’ve been haunting my dreams obviously) when I was in less of a hurried situation. This time I went to the Royal Festival Hall restaurant, and while the service wasn’t bad at all on the first visit, this time it was something else. It’s certainly something to do with the fact I was dining alone, but my food came out within five minutes of me ordering. When the waitress brought out my fajitas, she warned me probably unnecessarily that they were still very hot. The fat was still spitting furiously, the veggies had obviously been tipped straight off a frying pan and brought out to me in a matter of seconds, and it was nice to receive quite such a freshly cooked meal.
This is probably not a first date meal. There is so much raw garlic and barely cooked onion in this dish that you can taste it the next day. I would feel bad about ordering this out with my boyfriend if he didn’t order something similar (although that’s not to say I wouldn’t order it regardless). There is not really a dignified way to eat a fajita like this either, my face and hands got covered in food, and eventually I resorted to using a knife and fork because it was just going everywhere. Don’t let this put you off though, it’s a really enjoyable, tasty plate of food. Whatever those mushrooms are seasoned in, I want the recipe!
Las Iguanas offer two desserts suitable for vegans: a mango sorbet (if I were ever to have to resort to ordering a sorbet, at least this is probably the flavour I’d go for), and a set coconut pudding called a tembleque, served with mixed berries and a mango coulis. On my second visit, I ordered the latter to takeaway, as I was feeling far too full to eat it there and then, but was determined to try it. I’m sure had they been putting it on a plate it would’ve looked much prettier than in the photo I’ve taken, and to give them credit, they were happy to hunt around for a takeaway pot and paper bag for me as it was not a request they typically received. I couldn’t work out what this dish was made of, but I’ve since found the exact recipe on their website. This dish is a really nice, light way to finish off a meal like this, with the coconutty pudding mixed with the tartness of the berries, it’s a good palette cleanser and not too sickly sweet.
I think the fact that I visited twice in the space of a week should tell you all you need to know about whether the food at Las Iguanas is any good or not. I had a great experience both times I visited. The Oxford branch of Las Iguanas is on Park End Street, in the city centre. While I didn’t go to this particular restaurant, I’d expect the food and experience to be similar. If you’re on a budget, I’d suggest visiting before 6.30 on a weekday when they have an early evening deal on, or checking their website for a money off voucher, because it certainly isn’t cheap for standard chain restaurant food. They also have a happy hour with 2 for 1 cocktails, so it would be a great option for a birthday meal or something similar, given the variety of food to suit most tastes.