Review : Turtle Bay, Brixton

With over 20 branches now in the UK, the latest popping up on Briton Road, Caribbean food chain Turtle Bay is making its mark.

Following recent controversy over a less-than-smart social media campaign, you’d be forgiven for having already made your mind up about this one. But their super-friendly vibe could very quickly change your view.

The way I see it – going out to dinner is not all about the food. Sure, that part has to be good. But if every car was a Ferrari, where would the thrill be when you actually got to drive one? Turtle Bay is to the Brixton food scene what the Suzuki Swift is to the car world – You get what you pay for. But what it lacks in finesse, it makes up for in fun.

Walking in from the busy street, you’re immediately transported to a tropical island, mid-carnival. It’s a much bigger space than you image from the outside but the dim lighting and candles on tables make it feel as cosy and intimate as Tinder’s serial-dater training academy.

Joking aside, the interior is spot on. On the walls, graffiti-style murals and old sound clash speakers frame the centrally situated bar, which itself looks like it’s just washed up on shore – all driftwood and shabby paint.

Sticking with the theme, they serve Jamaican lager Red Stripe on tap, bottles of deliciously subtle homemade ginger beer and Rum n Ting cocktails to whet your appetite.

We lounged at a table in the bar area – and although we were told this is order-at-the-counter-only, we were very well looked after by a number of happy and infectiously-smiley waiting staff. By the look of it, both of those traits are on-the-job specification as all the staff at Turtle Bay Brixton are quite lovely.

I have to mention at this point that I don’t proclaim to be an expert on Caribbean food. I love eating it and have had a fair few curried goats and even made a saltfish and ackee or two at home, but I’ve never been to the Caribbean and wouldn’t want to judge something on whether or not it was authentic or not – although I suspect this really isn’t.

What I can judge is the flavour and the menu which, by the way, has something for everyone – big or small, meat or veggie, spicy or sweet, sharing or solo.

We ordered a couple of small plates from the “cutters” menu – an odd name given that in Barbados, this refers to sandwiches and none of the dishes come between bread. They all arrived together – the lack-lustre calamari looking like a bowl of deep fried wiggly-worms and cooked in a variety of textures, suggesting it wasn’t made exclusively for us.

Calamari2.jpg

The jerk chicken wings and over-cooked pit ribs lacked imagination and were, in both taste and appearance, basically the same.

One side dish in particular caught my eye and took me on a walk down memory lane to a time in my early twenties, stood outside a chippy on a freezing cold night in the north of England. That dish was jerk cheesy fries. I know that inherently, it’s wrong and cannot possibly be authentic; but I don’t care. Without wanting to sounds too much like Joey from Friends here: jerk – good, cheese – good, fries – gooood.

Fries.jpg

Where Turtle Bay really saved itself was with the one thing I’d go back for and strongly recommend that you try this winter – the “one pot” of curried goat, which had been generously slow cooked over several hours.

Curry.jpg

It comes served in a huge enamel pot which warms you up just by looking at it. The spice on the goat infuses the rest of the stew and gives the whole thing a welcome heat. The potatoes, carrots, rice n peas are packed with buttery flavour too and make this £9.65 pot a fair deal.

I’ve also had the pleasure of visiting Turtle Bay later in the evening when it transforms into a lively night-spot. The music (live reggae on occasion) and a bar accessible on four sides make this a fun new destination for night-time socialising and the aforementioned staff really bring it to life.

Would I go back? Definitely, for their generous one pots, pints of Red Stripe and a late-night dutty wine.

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