Turtle Bay, known as the ‘Caribbean Social’, is famed for its extensive cocktail menu, never ending Happy Hours and of course, its authentic taste of the Caribbean. With branches all over the UK, the brand’s latest offering popped up in Teesside recently and has proven to be not just a great place to eat but also a real destination bar. I went along to the VIP launch when it first landed and dined on a feast of menu favourites, and a few that were whipped up specially for the night, accompanied by enough rum cocktails to please a pirate.
Two months down the line and Turtle Bay have revamped their menus to reflect a Summer vibe, the old favourites are still there and there are some fresh new dishes in there too as well as a few that have been revamped. When I was invited along to be one of the first to try it I jumped at the chance to sink another couple of those amazing ginger beers. Bo and I arrived at Turtle Bay Middlesbrough to a warm welcome from staff and were shown to our window table right in front of the insta-perfect boombox wall. If you’ve visited Turtle Bay before, you’ll know that their Happy Hours are legendary and we arrived right in the middle of the lunchtime Happy Hour which means 2-4-1 cocktails.
We chose the lunchtime sitting on a super hot day and it wasn’t just us who saw sunshine and thought about taking in a little Caribbean sunshine in the UK, by the time we’d made our menu choices the place was packed out with a wait for tables. I opted for a Raspberry Reggae (make that 2) and Bo slurped Jamaican Shandy whilst we waited for our starters to arrive. After scanning the menu, we went with our trusty favourite: Chilli Squid (a first for us at Turtle Bay but a firm favourite as a starter pretty much everywhere we go), Duck Rolls and a Garlic Flatbread because a wise man once said it’s the future. Our food arrives quickly and it’s good, the garlic bread has an added zing that makes it stand out as a favourite for me and our server Gemma brings me a ginger beer because she’s heard that I love it – true story.
Looking around Turtle Bay it looks way bigger than its 231 capacity, the clever use of mirrors and seating on different levels makes it look double that and with this layout, it’s easy to see why it’s become a favourite on the Middlesbrough nightlife circuit. The Tiki hut bar has dedicated seating with a bar zone surrounding it so if you came to REALLY drink, you’re separate from diners although it seems that everyone who visits Turtle Bay shares a love of the Caribbean spirit. Plus, with a whole host of different rums on offer, the bar menu is as lengthy as the food menu.
Gemma recommends that we try the plantains as an accoutrement and we’re pleased we do, notoriously difficult to deal with, plantains are tricky to get right. Levi Roots once said that only Caribbean women know how to peel plantains and that there’s a definite knack to it – he’s not wrong. Ours arrive perfectly ripe and fried up to give a subtle crunch to the outside with sweet banana-y goodness on the inside. I’ll be honest Voyeurs, these are the best thing on the Turtle Bay menu and something that’s largely overlooked because a lot of people still don’t know what plantains are. Go there, try them, love them, thank me later. I could have eaten six bowls of these quite happily as a main course and at £2.80 per portion, they’re cheaper than a beer.
When it comes to main courses at Turtle Bay, the menu is cleverly divided up into sub headers geared up for how hungry you are. There’s a huge selection of over 50 dishes varying from street food through to their famous signature One Pots. Everything is freshly prepared in the open kitchen at the back of the restaurant which is lit in a way so that you can see inside from wherever you are in the dining area, it’s a nice touch and something that’s typical in the Caribbean.
We opted for lamb Rump with a spiced sweet mash to die for and the Curry Shrimp and Mango One Pot with Jamaican style sticky rice. Everything at Turtle Bay delivers a certain amount of spice, whether you like it subtle or full on, each dish is prepared to bring the heat. Even the lamb was mildly spiced and the curry shrimp was laden with heat but with a coconut creaminess to take the edge off. If the heat gets too much, Turtle Bay have a selection of creamy coolers perfect for quelling the heat, the elderflower cooler is the equivalent of turning the gas down a notch and servers are well equipped to advise which drink to have on stand by if things get too hot to handle. The food is good. Very good in fact. If you’re a fan of spice then this is one for your list, the meat is slow cooked and tender and the flavour is palpable but not over bearing in everything that’s served. Where some places pile on the spice, Turtle Bay maintains the flavours but gently warms them up with spice, and balances the spice with coconut.
The portions at Turtle Bay are pretty good too, we managed a starter and a main course but it all would have ended in tears if I’d attempted to squeeze in a dessert too – yes Voyeurs, I *sometimes* know my limits – although the dessert menu is packed with traditional Caribbean favourites that you’re unlikely to see on regular dining menus. If you’re looking for a real taste of the Caribbean then you can’t go far wrong with Turtle Bay, with branches all over the UK you’re bound to find one close by and menus are updated regularly to reflect seasonal changes. I’d highly recommend the Curry Shrimp One Pot with six sides of Plantains, oh, and grab yourself a cocktail and some sort of cooler before you even start eating, you’ll need it….
Big thanks to Turtle Bay Middlesbrough who gifted us our lunch and to Gemma who helped me discover my new favourite side dish.