Local food blogger, Ellen Manning from Eat with Ellen, tells us her thoughts on Turtle Bay’s new menu…
I’m no stranger to Turtle Bay – I’ve been enjoying the delights of its cocktail happy hour (or should I say hours, since they have two each night) for quite some time now. Every time I’ve been I’ve looked at the menu, looked at the plates of food coming out to diners and said, ‘I really must try the food here’. Not just because of the fab cocktails, funky music and gaudy decor. But because I really do like Caribbean food. Years ago on a work trip to Tobago I fell in love with the simply, spicy food we were treated to, followed by an affair with the beachside jerk pit when Mr M and I holidayed in Jamaica. And lucky for me, there was a pretty good jerk chicken stall in Brixton when I worked in London where I could reminisce over lovely beaches, great people and happy holidays.
The closest Turtle Bay to me is in Leamington Spa. You’ll find it in Regent Court, a pedestrianised road full of foodie outlets and the place I recently tried my hand at sushi-making during its ‘Fiesta of Flavours’. We tootled along on a Wednesday night to check out their new menu and found a pretty busy, bustling restaurant with a few people enjoying cocktails but most there to dine.
It really does have a great ambience – fun and funky with the bar in the centre and seating all about. We sat up in a raised area which proved to be a great vantage point to see everything that was going on, as well as giving us the feeling of a little bit of privacy that you often want on date night.
It would have been rude not to start with a cocktail, so I tried out Turtle Bay’s espresso martini while Jamie couldn’t resist a Red Stripe to help him with his deliberations. We definitely needed some help – everything on the menu appealed to us. From jerk dishes to ‘one pots’, a load of fab-sounding starters, burgers and even salads, there’s something for everyone.
In the end we had to enlist the help of our waitress (whose name I can’t remember but she was absolutely brilliant – I know, a complete contradiction but she really was good). She suggested we go for a classic – the ‘Just Jerk’ platter that would give us a taste of everything.
It certainly looked like ‘everything’ when it arrived – a rainbow of colours and flavours all laid out like a feast fit for a king. Marinated jerk wings, glazed pork ribs, jerk beef riblets, Jamaican beef patty, sweetcorn fritters, spiced popcorn, herb mayo & super green salad.
The jerk wings were amazing, and the beef patties were a favourite of mine, while Jamie loved the ribs and the spiced popcorn. We both agreed that while pretty on the plate, we weren’t that bothered about the super green salad – I mean, who wants salad when you’ve got so much lovely meat on offer?
For main course Jamie didn’t struggle to make his mind up, going for the slow braised beef rib, served up with sweet potato fries and a watermelon, lime and coriander chow salad. You can opt for one of three different jerk glazes – classic, pineapple which is more fruity and coconut which is more creamy. He went for the first and wasn’t disappointed. The meat fell off the bone, the spicing was just right and he really enjoyed the sweet, refreshing watermelon salad, especially with its fresh coriander.
His only comment – not a complaint but an observation – was that it wasn’t quite the huge portion he had been expecting, and if he hadn’t had a starter didn’t know if it would have filled him up. You can take whatever you like from this: a) that the Mannings are greedy gutses and like big portions, b) if you don’t like being fed gut-busting meals then you’ll be happy to know you get a far more reasonable size at Turtle Bay, or c) always have a starter. Up to you.
I was adamant I wanted one of the ‘one pots’ and toyed with goat curry but decided on one of the new additions to the menu – Bajan Beef Cheeks. I love beef cheeks anyway, cooked right, and these definitely were. For six hours apparently, and marinated in Caribbean spice, okra, potato, garlic, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, coriander & toasted coconut.
It did, indeed, come in one big pot with steamed rice and a roti flatbread on the side. The flavour was deep and warm, with the aniseed of the star anise shining through yet never overpowering the rich, meaty beef cheeks. It’s the perfect comfort food yet with a twist thanks to the addition of the punchy spicing. Delicious.
We definitely weren’t going to do dessert, but given that I was there to try some of the new dishes on the menu, it seemed important to for a complete job. As soon as he saw barbecued pineapple on the menu, Jamie was dead set on it. A simple dessert really – caramelised and grilled with a rum caramel sauce and coconut ice cream.
It’s probably not the most aesthetically pleasing dessert we’ve ever tried for this blog, but don’t be fooled. It was the perfect combination of sweet and refreshing and Mr M – not usually a fan of alcohol in desserts – said the rum caramel sauce was a great addition.
I was tempted by one of the newer desserts – ‘Passion Pie’, a kind of twist on a lemon meringue pie. Being quite full, I wasn’t too sure how much I’d enjoy it, given that I’ve had a fair few lemon meringues in my time, but was taken by surprise at how well executed and slightly different from the norm it was.
The pastry was buttery, sweet and crumbly, the passion fruit curd sweet and rich and the meringue just how I like it. Squishy and soft, with just a hint of crunch on the top. Add to that some passion fruit sauce and fresh mint and it was a winner.
As we left there was still a healthy buzz about the place. I loved the casual fun of Turtle Bay – a great, versatile place for a meal with friends, family or just the two of you. The food was great – not over-complicated which was refreshing (given I spend quite a lot of time eating fancy food) and full of big, bold flavours.
The final tick in the box was the service. They have a slightly familiar style that could feel a bit weird elsewhere but really works here and just adds to the friendly feel that makes Turtle Bay somewhere that puts a smile on your face. Again, I just can’t believe it’s taken me so long to try it!
Ellen was invited to Turtle Bay to try some of the new dishes on the menu. The meal was complimentary but she wasn’t asked to write a positive review.