A happy happy hour (or three) at Turtle Bay

At work, I sit next to our events manager extraordinaire, Natasha. During the course of an average working day, we’ll very often put the worlds to rights (while working hard of course – we’re first class multi-taskers) and our conversations will wander all over the place. But one thing they always come back to is food. We both like our food. Lots.

So when I was invited to review Turtle Bay’s new menu, the first major menu change they’ve introduced since the restaurant chain arrived in Bristol, I had to invite Natasha along to test it out with me. OK, so my husband was a little bit grumpy when he found out, but he’s reviewed so many places and products with me, I really don’t think he has too much cause for complaint.

We decided to put the new Turtle Bay menu through its paces at the Cheltenham Road restaurant, which opened last summer, and we had a brilliant night. But isn’t that to be expected at Turtle Bay? Well known for its delicious 2-4-1 cocktails (daily until 7pm and then from 10pm til close), reggae beats and sparkly staff, it has a reputation as the place to party.

We went on a Monday evening straight from work and, while the restaurant wasn’t packed to the rafters and there certainly wasn’t any dancing on the tables, it wasn’t quiet either. Sat relaxing at the bar with our drinks in hand (Marley mojitos to start things off), Natasha and I got to gassing away so much, it would have been quite easy to forget about the food completely and just let the cocktails flow.

But of course we didn’t let that happen. There was a serious job to be done here after all. What was this new menu like?

Traditional favourites like jerk chicken and curried goat have all stayed put, but now there’s a whole new burger offering, with a new ‘two way’ chicken burger and a mushroom and goats cheese burger, as well as the popular jerk ‘n’ pulled pork bun. The ‘One Pots’ menu has been updated, with Bajan beef cheeks making an appearance, along with slow braised beef rib and, my favourite from my last visit, Jamaican browned chicken.

I’d been told that the new menu had been inspired by feedback from customers, featuring fresh new twists, lighter, healthier options, and more accessible dietary options, including vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free.

We were curious to find out what Turtle Bay’s vegetarian offering was like, so we opted for the ‘Vital Veggie’ sharing platter to start, loaded with sweetcorn fritters, crispy okra, jerk pit grilled mushrooms and peppers, pepper roti, bara flat bread, spiced curried chickpeas and cucumber chutney, herb mayo and a ‘super’ green salad.

This was one serious platter. I know we had our drinking heads on, but the veggie platter would have served as our starter and main course combined. There was a lot of food. And although it was tasty, I can’t say much of it was that memorable. I was rather into the sweetcorn fritters (I can eat corn til the cows come home), especially smothered in pepper sauce, but Natasha could take them or leave them. The salad was refreshing (and anything with pomegranate seeds on top just looks so pretty), but it was the crispy okra that we both went absolutely crazy for. It was just so good – crunchy batter, with juicy soft ladies fingers inside, lovely and salty and oh so moreish. Next time I visit Turtle Bay, it’s cocktails and okra all the way for me.

Metaphorically loosening our belts, it was time to step up to the mains.

Steeling ourselves with a couple more cocktails (Roots Culture this time), I got started on my very generous potful of Bajan beef cheeks served with rice and flatbread, while Natasha attempted to demolish her jammin’ lamb burger.

I was very happy with my sweetly spiced beef cheeks; slow cooked for six hours they were soft and beautifully tender. Not the kind of home-style comfort food you necessarily expect to be tucking into at a bar, drinking cocktails. Natasha too enjoyed her pretty decent lamb burger (made with lamb and mutton, although you’d be hard pushed to tell) and served with Caribbean slaw and spiced fries.

Caribbean slaw? This reminds me of how much of our conversation that night came back to the question of authenticity. While the food was good and tasty and a great accompaniment to all those cocktails, was this what you could describe as traditional West Indian food? Natasha’s family is from Barbados and she says her family enjoys a meal out at Turtle Bay, but they certainly don’t come here for a taste of food from home. There are plenty of restaurants in Bristol serving much more authentic Caribbean and West Indian menus.

Despite being extremely well fed (ie stuffed), our waiter insisted we had to try a dessert. We finally relented and shared a fat slice of his recommendation, passion pie – like lemon meringue but a passion fruit version. To be honest, I wish I’d stuck to my guns and just stuck for a coffee. My kids would have adored it – sweet and sticky and very gooey – but I’m afraid it wasn’t anything special.

We had an excellent evening at Turtle Bay. It’s a vibrant, buzzy place to gather with friends and family and would make an ideal venue for a works night out. The cocktails are the main attraction, along with the music and extremely extrovert staff, and the food – while it’s not an authentic taste of the Caribbean – completely complements the festival atmosphere and is pretty good value for money too. It’s great they’ve expanded their menu to include lighter dishes – wish now we’d focused more on those! – as well as more vegetarian and vegan offerings too. But the main reason I’ll be heading back there is for that delicious spiced okra – I’ve been dreaming about that dish…

Find your local Turtle Bay at www.turtlebay.co.uk

Disclosure: We were the guests of Turtle Bay and we did not pay for our food or drink. No money exchanged hands and as always all opinions expressed are most definitely my own.

4 thoughts on “A happy happy hour (or three) at Turtle Bay

  1. Interested in your take on them. I’ve been twice to the Milton Keynes branch, on neither occasion through choice, and won’t return if I can help it. The food is pretty inauthentic and mostly overcooked, and the cocktails are on the cheap side as far as I can tell because there’s very little in them apart from ice. It was quite the worst caiprinha bar one I’ve had anywhere. Still, if you didn’t have to pay that is at least something.
    We went with a group of friends and even when we were sitting eating away from the bar area you really couldn’t have a conversation because you couldn’t hear what the people on the other side of the table were saying because of the volume of music. I accept I’m probably not their target audience but I thought it was ghastly.

    1. I agree that it’s not the place to go if you want traditional West Indian food or quiet conversation – although we went on a Monday evening, so it was quieter than usual, and my friend and I had no trouble chatting away. It’s loud and vibrant and definitely a place for partying. We had a great evening.

  2. wow! Having lived for 3 glorious years in the West Indies (T & T) – trips over to Barbados were quite frequent and needless to say we loved every minute of it. The food? Oh yes, I learned a lot and still cook the odd recipe, maybe sometimes slightly added with an Indian touch 🙂 :). Tomorrow I think I will make my spicy okra dish for my husband as a little surprised – thanks for reminding me 🙂

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