I wanted Turtle Bay to be great so bad that I pretended it was for a long time.
I mean, it was everything I ever dreamed of; the Caribbean food I so loved to eat, cocktails which I so love to drink, bougie décor inspired by the real restaurants of the Caribbean with familiar faces on the walls, hot pepper sauce and jerk barbecue sauce on every table – and all of this just a bus ride from home?!
But now it’s time to face facts – Turtle Bay is actually quite disappointing.
One thing that Turtle Bay does have going for it is its portion sizes – while not as large as a Caribbean takeaway shop serves, I have been full every time I’ve eaten there (I made my fifth visit two weeks ago).
What wasn’t effective though was the consistency and the taste.
I’m not saying that a dish should taste exactly the same every single time I order it (this is not McDonalds after all) but it should taste similar.
I visited Turtle Bay on my birthday (I told you I had faith in it) and a friend of mine ordered a cocktail, I took a sip and it tasted incredible – well it tasted better than the one I ordered. So I ordered her one and it came – tasting completely different.
It’s clear that the drinks in general aren’t made by experienced bar tenders – but by well-meaning wait staff with vague recipes.
Maybe it’s because I was expecting the real Caribbean food I’m used to, but there has been something off about all the dishes I’ve tasted so far: a slightly stale bun in a jerk chicken dish, bland coleslaw as a side, an overcooked steak which otherwise tasted great.
There are TWO exceptions to the above statement – The jerk ribs and the Mo’Bay chicken – don’t bother with the rice and peas – just have sweet potato fries or mash. Oh, also the banana and toffee cheesecake is lit.
The menu is great – a wide selection of dishes clearly inspired by the Caribbean and served on the kinds of dishes they really would have around the place. All these good elements make the food even more disappointing.
The Brixton branch of Turtle Bay is about a 7 minute walk from the underground station. There are 27 other Turtle Bay restaurants, including Dalston, Ealing and Walthamstow.
The prices make this place an obvious choice for date night/brunch/a family dinner; lunch dishes are around £7, larger dinner dishes start form £9.70, and desserts are £4.85.
The ‘R’ Factor
Will I go to Turtle Bay again? It’s very likely.
Where else am I going to take friends when they come to South London with empty stomachs? But will I carefully select what they eat and drink? Yes, yes I will.
I had waited so long to have one place that served food my Jamaican mother would deem authentic, that had décor my older sisters wouldn’t turn their noses up at, and served cocktails that my friends would be think were delicious, but could still afford.
Ahh well, back to Chak 89 we go…
As I was teasing this piece on Twitter, poet Dean Atta brought a questionable social media campaign run by Turtle Bay to my attention.
The restaurant offered to turn pictures of customers into ‘Rastas’ by adding dreadlocks and darkening their skin.
— Dean Atta (@DeanAtta) April 19, 2016
Turtle Bay later apologised for this and got rid of the external party who implemented it.