Turtle Bay has certainly been a popular recent addition to Bristol’s buzzing food and drink scene. With a fantastically central location on Broad Quay, the recent spates of sunny weather have seen the crowds flocking to the bar-restaurant’s front terrace to soak up the rays and enjoy 2-for-1 cocktails during Turtle Bay’s extensive happy hours.
The restaurant – the fourth in the Turtle Bay empire – opened after a £900,000 investment in the 4,000 square foot site. It even has a Bristol history: the chain was founded by Ajith Jaywickrema, the Bristol-based restaurateur who was also behind the Las Iguanas brand.
Appearances are deceptive, with the relatively small frontage opening to a 120-seat restaurant featuring a central bar area and open plan kitchen. Bright breezy colours and lively music create a feeling of being on tropical shores rather than in a drizzly city centre, with shipping containers, Red Stripe artwork and an area designed to look like a beach shack all coming together to create a lively and fun atmosphere.
We were shown to the very back of the restaurant on a busy week night, and while our table was very close to that of our neighbours, the proximity seemed to suit the liveliness of the venue. As we’d arrived just about within happy hour (running from 12-7pm and 10pm to close every day of the week), it would have been rude not to go for the 2-for-1 cocktail deal, opting for the Frozen Rum Runner: a delicious concoction of dark rum, blackberry brandy, banana liqueur, lime and pomegranate.
Rum fans will love this place, with a separate menu available for this traditional Caribbean spirit, and no fewer than 28 varieties available.
But what of the food? Well, the main reason for us wanting to visit is that my partner’s father is from Trinidad – and that the majority of “Caribbean” restaurants that we’ve found in Bristol seem to be almost exclusively Jamaican. It was good to read through the Turtle Bay menu and see influences from other Caribbean islands: not only in the rum selection, but also in the food options available. Caribbean food is not just jerk chicken and curried goat!
I was intrigued by the Pepper Roti: flatbreads filled with shredded potatoes, carrots, peppers, cheese and Scotch Bonnet chilli before being baked in the oven. I did like the presentation: served on a square of paper on top of a striped wooden serving board, evoking the street food vibe pretty well.
The dish itself wasn’t as I expected, though. The roti itself was a little soggy and almost pastry-like, while the filling was fairly meagre and overpowered by the cheese. I was warned that this starter had some heat to it, but the use of Scotch Bonnet chillies seemed very sparing…
For Chris, the Trini Doubles – which he’d been looking forward to ever since he heard that the restaurant was due to open! A legendary Trini street food snack, doubles consist of two bara roti (deep fried flatbreads) which are used to sandwich spiced chickpeas and – in Turtle Bay’s case – cucumber chutney.
The spicing of the chickpeas was fantastic, and the flatbreads had a great texture – the only complaint was that the dish was nowhere near spicy enough: Trinidadians like their hot sauce! Luckily each table has a selection of hot sauces to choose from so that he was able to ramp up the heat.
Main course options are varied – especially if you’re a fan of spice! We both went for the Trini Fish Curry from the “One Pot” section of the menu: an interesting-sounding concoction of fish, seafood, coconut milk and roast curry spices, the bowl of which was served on a beautiful wooden board and accompanied by a grilled flatbread and rice and peas. The sweet onion chutney that the menu promised sadly didn’t materialise.
A little hit and miss, this main: the fish and seafood was tender and perfectly cooked, with great spicing, but the chunks of salmon seemed a little out of place alongside the squid, prawns and white fish: it’s not the most traditional Trini ingredient!
It was the rice and peas that were the major disappointment in this dish: the rice with a strange, sandy consistency, and an overwhelming flavour that suggested that the “peas” (beans) hadn’t been rinsed properly before cooking. A real shame.
For dessert (we shared – we were too full!), the banana and toffee cheesecake: a thick layer of toffee sauce sitting on top of a crumbly cheesecake base, the whole lot topped with a slightly sickly banana cheesecake topping. Not a standout dessert in either of our opinions: and one that tasted like it had been frozen and not quite defrosted enough.
All in all, a bit hit and miss. While the cocktails were fantastic (and I’ve been back since to try more!), there were elements of the meal that were a little disappointing. Maybe it was because we were expecting more, I don’t know, but after reading rave reviews on TripAdvisor and hearing positive things from people we know who have visited other Turtle Bay branches, we were a little underwhelmed by our experience.
Please note: this meal was received free of charge, but in no way impacted on our opinion. We were not obliged to write a positive review, and the venue did not see this review before it was put up on the site.
Find Turtle Bay on the Bristol Bites Directory…