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REVIEW: Turtle Bay, City Centre

Ruth Allan has the flavour piled high in the city's most buoyant restaurant

Written by . Published on October 1st 2014.

REVIEW: Turtle Bay, City Centre

MANCHESTER’s biggest Caribbean restaurant has been positively hyped over the last few months.

It looks like a wonky doughnut someone has plonked in the deep fryer. The chickpeas contain more old fashioned curry powder than my mum’s larder.

Friends have described it as ‘Buzzrocks with more choice’ and ‘really, really fun’. And this professional outfit actually lived up to its reputation this week, serving up some of the best jerk in town and the kind of party vibes that you’d be pushed to find in Kingston.

Chilli, pimento, coriander and ginger are turned up to eleven across beach snacks and jerk dishes inspired by the cuisines of the Caribbean. Vegan-friendly ‘one-pots’ provide a kind of balance – although the menu is still very jerky - with coconut, sweet potato and coriander lending a tropical edge to comfort food. Starters mix things up a bit with curry ‘doubles’, salt fish and yet more of the chain restaurant’s famous jerk.

We were lucky to secure a walk-in slot on a Saturday night. Weaving past old Coke crates, driftwood and rasta-inspired colours to our table, I suspected there would be a homage to Bob Marley somewhere. That somewhere is the bathroom, which includes enough cubicles to please an all-girls sixth form college. It’s a big place.

Turtle BayTurtle Bay

Turtle BayTurtle Bay

It would be all too easy for Bob to dominate the stereo but reggae beats are interspersed with more upfront sound-system tracks and underground sounds. Tapping along among the birthday parties and young lovers that fill the two floors, I find myself nodding in agreement with the whole vibe.

A starter of doughy bara roti bread with chickpea curry and some fresh salsa could double as a light lunch (Trini Doubles, £4.95). It looks like a wonky doughnut someone has plonked in the deep fryer. The chickpeas contain more old fashioned curry powder than my mum’s larder, with shavings of dried coconut and chilli on top. Yet it comes together perfectly. Hailing from Trinidad, the dish is thought to have been imported and modified by Indian migrants over the years and owes something to breakfast in Delhi, where flat breads and channa are a staple.

This wouldn’t be the Caribbean without saltfish which we tackle in pasty form (£4,95), with a drizzle of scotch-bonnet mayo.

But mains are the real draw. Half a jerk chicken (£9.95) arrives blackened in some places, gooey in others. Surely one of Manchester’s finest takes on this classic, the generous rub is packed with aromatic allspice berries – that sweet, smoky, herbaceous flavour that makes this dish so distinctive – and comes perched on sides of rice and peas and a grapefruity coleslaw. Cue such intense umami that I am loathed to share at all.

Saltfish pastySaltfish patty

Jerk chicken with slawJerk chicken with slaw

Across the table things are equally solid. Juicy carrots and sweetcorn wheels come together in a sweet coconut sauce as part of Rastafari Run Down vegan one-pot (£9.65). Sweet potato fries provide crisp counterpoint until I add a bit too much of Aunt May’s volcanic pepper sauce.

In fact, there are excellent condiments across the board but desserts aren’t a strength. We round things off with a promisingly-named dark chocolate pie (£4.85), which turns out to be a simple brownie sliced in half. I’d probably go for the BBQ pineapple with coconut ice cream next time, or just settle for the pleasingly frothy coffee.

Judging by the merry crowd at the bar, cocktails are popular and largely of the mojito genus. My first order is Caribbean Pimms (£6.85) over sweetened with strawberry, orange and passionfruit. The Marley Mojito with Appleton rum, Midori, mint, watermelon, homemade ginger beer (£6.85) is better in taste if not in name.

Turtle Bay bar folkTurtle Bay bar folk

We tried the rum tasting board too (£18), although I can’t say that was a great idea. There are four rums per tray, with a can of Ting in the middle and some ice and lime. Blackwell rum is the house standard, a Jamaican standby owned by Island Record’s Chris Blackwell and perfect for any mixing occasion, while El Dorado five year old comes from the banks of the Demerara river in Guyana. It’s the real deal.  

New to me was Santa Teresa, a Venezuelan blend with orange blossom aspects, and Pyrat OX dark rum blend, aged up to fifteen years. Again, this one is orangey and reminded me of Tia Maria. It was all too easy to decimate the tray and once you’ve got rum on the tongue, it’s hard to decipher different styles. Drinks are on the pricier side compared to the food, where nothing slips over £10, but with 2-4-1 cocktails everyday from noon-7pm and 10pm onwards, you can save by going large at 6.55pm.

Bob gets a run out, naturallyBob shows up, naturally

Turtle Bay is not perfect, but perfection isn’t what this fun and friendly restaurant is all about. The basics are in place: mains that pile flavour (clove, pimento, chilli, barbeque) upon flavour, reminding you that your traditional English diet is profoundly bland, there are loads of rums and – and here’s a big bonus in a high turnover place like this - staff are uniformly excellent, in particular the lady Maitre’d who could move directly to a three star joint as far as I’m concerned.

If spice ain’t your thing, you’d best steer clear. Otherwise, good times await at this hot spot in the city centre.


You can follow @ruthallan on twitter.

Turtle Bay, 33-35 Oxford Street, Manchester, M1 4BH. 0161 236 4101.

Rating 13.5/20

 Food: 6.5/10. (Trini Doubles 7, Saltfish 6, Jerk Chicken 8, One-pot 7, Chocolate 5)

 Service: 4/5.

Ambience: 3/5

PLEASE NOTE: Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing, 14-15 worth a trip, 16-17 very good, 18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away

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24 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousOctober 1st 2014.

The place is [and was always going to be] overated. It is what it is though, and by that I mean it's a theme chain restaurant.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousOctober 1st 2014.

Great post I also think it is what it is.

rinkydinkOctober 2nd 2014.

This post is what it is. And by that I mean a predictable and obvious statement about a chain restaurant

AnonymousOctober 2nd 2014.

Somebody likes spicy chicken.

rinkydinkOctober 1st 2014.

It's a really nice place this. Who cares if it is a chain? They've done a good job and it knocks the socks off most NQ joints

5 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousOctober 2nd 2014.

You would say that though Rinkydink . You are American after all. There's no NQ pretension though. I'll give you that.

rinkydinkOctober 2nd 2014.

It's fun innit? They've created a good atmosphere and that obviously isn't easy cos not many other venues achieve it in the right way. Terrace in the NQ is another good example. It just has "it"

DigsterOctober 2nd 2014.

I agree with Rinkydink on this. It's a fun place, the music is great, the staff are good, the food is fine, prices for food and drinks are reasonable - all these together make for a good visit. There is always a good vibrant atmosphere when we've been in, so much so I am just in the process of arranging our office Christmas lunch there.

rinkydinkOctober 2nd 2014.

That's it. I'm aware you can get better food elsewhere but it's OK and the whole package just makes sense somehow...

AnonymousOctober 2nd 2014.

It's just ok. I do hope the franchise owners/owners would keep sitting at the window tables with their laptops and paperwork. It's rather off-putting.

Poster BoyOctober 2nd 2014.

Not quite an advertorial. Sympathetic.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
EvoOctober 2nd 2014.

I got a similar vibe, it's a very dramatic piece. I can't help feeling impartiality is gradually being drained from this once very informative and insightful website. And that's by no means based solely on this review.

AnonymousOctober 2nd 2014.

Likewise. It does read very advertorial in nature.

GordoOctober 2nd 2014.

Ruth likes this place. She is enthusiastic about it. They are not advertisers. Kinda simple really. As Freud once said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

AnonymousOctober 2nd 2014.

i thought it was ok, nothing major, a bit like nandos but jerk. id pop in for lunch on a saturday and a couple of drinks if i was nearby.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
rinkydinkOctober 2nd 2014.

Nothing like Nandos

AnonymousOctober 2nd 2014.

Ha, Rinkydink = No.1 chicken jerk fan.

BooOctober 2nd 2014.

average ping food. I asked for more sauce I was given the answer that each dish comes with a particular amount of sauce and no more could be added to my dish. The microwave must of been left on for too long that time as the rice was terribly dry.

1 Response: Reply To This...
BobOctober 2nd 2014.

Did you go up at looked how they cooked the food? I guess not, the rice is in a steamer so next time don't judge before you know where it comes from!

Voice of the Ironing BroadOctober 2nd 2014.

Can hardly match the gem that is Osa African Foods ...streetmarket piccadilly ...why go out for jerk when you can do it with her sauce. This is the poster that sent one of her currys frozen to Aberdeen...which was enjoyed by the recipient even though it got there four days late. Cannot speak for the rest of the post that travelled with it.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousOctober 2nd 2014.

African food? HAHAHAHAHA! You've gotta come up with something more original than overspiced chicken or bland tasting and bland looking food. Manchester's got much more to offer elsewhere. Please not everyone, I said African FOOD, not people!

AnonymousOctober 2nd 2014.

Went to try it and was sorely disappointed. Food and cocktails not a patch on Revolucion de Cuba.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousOctober 2nd 2014.

Cocktails? The ladies do love a sweetened alcoholic drink don't they? So overpriced too.

AnonymousOctober 2nd 2014.

Pyrat XO

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