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.
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.
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.
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.