Cardiff has been treated to yet another exciting new restaurant opening in the form of Caribbean chain, Turtle Bay.
Having spent a few months in Jamaica last year, I’m particularly excited about the arrival of Turtle Bay. The rumours about it opening in Cardiff have teased me for months, so I’m delighted to see the restaurant finally open its doors.
Turtle Bay Cardiff officially opened on Friday 11th December, but I attended a preview event on Tuesday 8th December, followed by the launch party on Thursday 10th December. Since then I’ve been back two more times – that’s four visits in just over two weeks – so, as you can probably tell, this restaurant definitely gets my seal of approval!
About Turtle Bay
Co-founded in 2010 by Ajith Jayawickrema (co-founder of Latin American restaurant chain, Las Iguanas) and Stephen Entwistle, Turtle Bay is a Caribbean restaurant concept with 25 locations throughout the UK. The idea behind Turtle Bay came about because Aj and Stephen wanted to bring a new restaurant concept to the UK high street and noticed an absence of Caribbean restaurants. After spending time travelling the Caribbean and sampling different dishes, they set up a restaurant featuring an informal beach atmosphere, serving authentic Caribbean cuisine.
Inside, the Cardiff restaurant is fashioned from up-cycled materials, with the roof over the bar made from wooden closet doors, the sinks in the toilets made from rubber car tyres and flattened jerk oil cans and reggae music event posters covering the walls and the roof. Reggae music plays at a medium volume – not too loud, but louder than the music in most restaurants. The atmosphere definitely reminds me of being in the Caribbean.
The menu offers a variety of Caribbean dishes, although there is a big focus on Jamaican cuisine. The restaurant even has a Jerk Centre, featuring a robata grill to mimic the effect of a traditional jerk pit by slowly grilling the meat over charcoal until the juices drip out, creating smoke to enhance flavour.
Where drinks are concerned, the menu features over 40 different rums from across the Caribbean and diners can choose from a variety of cocktails, wines, regional beers (like Red Stripe and Turtle Bay’s very own Jamaican pale ale) and spirits.
However, there are some popular Caribbean foods missing from the menu like callaloo (a.k.a. amaranth, like spinach and popular throughout the Caribbean – click here for my recipe), fried chicken (I ate more of this than anything else whilst in Jamaica, especially from Seaview Bar and Grill, Negril) and ackee and salt fish (widely regarded as Jamaica’s national dish).
Now, in no particular order, here are 10 tasty things to try at Turtle Bay, Cardiff:
- Beef patty (£4.95) A traditonal Jamaican street food snack, patties are authentic pastries with a flaky shell, tinted yellow by egg yolk or turmeric. They are available in a range of flavours including beef, chicken, prawn and more – my favourite is a beef and cheese patty.Served ‘street style’ in a brown paper bag, this looks pretty authentic, lettuce leaf and herb mayo aside. Inside, it’s filled with ground beef spiced with scotch bonnet pepper, making for a tasty starter or light lunch.
- Jerk chicken wings (4.95)
Marinated for 24 hours in a blend of scotch bonnet chillies, scallions, onions, thyme, all spice and other seasonings, Turtle Bay’s jerk chicken is grilled on a robata grill until the skin becomes caramelised and slightly crispy, whilst the meat remains tender and succulent.The chicken wings are served with a sour orange chutney, although personally I like to eat jerk with a spicy dipping sauce. Luckily, we have a selection of hot sauces to choose from on our table, like Aunt May’s Bajan Pepper sauce from Barbados and Encona Jamaican Jerk sauce. I’m really impressed with Turtle Bay’s jerk chicken and I wouldn’t hesitate to order it again.
To find out more about jerk chicken, check out my previous review of Pushcart restaurant in Negril, Jamaica.
- Beach food platter (£12.95)
If you can’t decide what to order for your starter or you’re with a large group of people, the beach food platter is the way to go. For just £12.95, you get a mouthwatering selection of spicy jerk chicken wings, pepper roti bread, sweetcorn fritters and garlic n’ herb flatbreads.
The pepper roti is a Trinidad-style spicy, soft oven-baked bread stuffed with shredded cheese, carrots, potatoes, onions and scotch bonnet, whilst the stonebaked garlic n’ herb flatbreads are more on the crispy side. Meanwhile, the sweetcorn fritters are filled with spring onion, coriander, scotch bonnet pepper and sweetcorn mixed together with a dash of West Indian hot sauce.
- Curry goat (£9.70)
This was my first time with goat; despite visiting Jamaica last year I’m ashamed to admit that I never got round to trying it over there, although curry goat was available in most restaurants.
Turtle Bay’s curry goat is cooked in spices, scotch bonnet, sweet potatoes, citrus juice and ginger, served with a choice of sweet onion chutney and Caribbean dumplings. The goat is so tender it just falls apart in my mouth, and it doesn’t taste too different from beef, just with a plainer taste. This is a pretty spicy curry, so I wouldn’t recommend ordering it unless you’re into spicy food.
The rice and peas are well-flavoured and the portion size is ample. However, in my experience traditional Caribbean ‘festival’ dumplings have a sweet taste created by the use of vanilla essence and sugar, whereas Turtle Bay’s dumplings have a savoury flavour.
- Trinidad curry chicken (£9.70)
Although many of the dishes on Turtle Bay’s menu originate from Jamaica, others have their roots elsewhere in the Caribbean. The Trinidad chicken curry consists of chunks of chicken breast (I suspect this is cooked on the bone) mixed with spices, garlic and scotch bonnet in a coconut milk sauce, topped with fresh mango and coconut.This has a deliciously creamy taste. The scotch bonnet gives the curry an added kick, but the coconut milk prevents it from being too spicy.
- Mo Bay chicken (£9.95)
Named after Montego Bay, the capital of St. James parish on Jamaica’s north coast, Mo Bay Chicken contains sliced chicken in a creamy spiced jerk sauce, with onions and sweet plantain (which closely resemble bananas), accompanied by a dressed salad as opposed to the usual slaw.
The sauce is rich and creamy, with a strong jerk flavour. However, I don’t remember this being a traditional dish when I visited Montego Bay so perhaps this is one of Turtle Bay’s own concoctions.
- Whole jerk chicken (£16.50)
What’s better than jerk chicken wings? A whole jerk chicken, of course! Although, if you can’t quite manage a whole one, you can order half for just £10.
All of Turtle Bay’s one pot dishes are served with Caribbean slaw and a choice of rice and peas, sweet potato mash, sweet potato fries, spiced fries or a beach salad.
If you’re a big jerk fan, why not give my recipe for jerk chicken a go?
- Caymanas Rum Cake £4.85)
Round off your meal with the Caymanas rum cake, a moist, golden sponge infused with rum, served with rum caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream.
At first I was unsure of whether I’d like this because I’m not really into rum, but it’s actually really good. You can definitely taste the rum in both the sponge and the sauce, but it’s not too overpowering. As for the sauce, I just can’t get enough of it – salted caramel and rum are a match made in foodie heaven!
- Rum and raisin bread and butter pudding (£4.85)
In a twist on the traditional British dessert, Turtle Bay’s rum and raisin bread and butter pudding is slow-baked with dark rum, cinnamon, whole raisins and brown sugar, served with vanilla ice cream.
I find bread and butter pudding to be quite bland and boring, but the rum certainly helps to liven things up in this Caribbean version.
- Caribbean Pimms cocktail (£6.95 or 2-for-1 at happy hour – until 7pm & from 10pm – 1.30am daily)
To wash all that food down, tuck into a tasty Caribbean cocktail. The bar stocks over 40 kinds of rum, including a 63% proof variety.
The Caribbean Pimms cocktail is made using fresh mint leaves, strawberries, cucumber, lime, ginger, orange and passion fruit. Refreshing and fruity, it tastes like a traditional Pimms cocktail but the addition of lime, ginger and passion fruit makes for a zesty twist.
Turtle Bay Cardiff
114-116 St. Mary Street
(029) 2034 2006
Did you enjoy my review of Turtle Bay? Click here to see restaurants I’ve reviewed in Jamaica.
I was invited to Turtle Bay as a guest on two occasions where I received complimentary food and drink, but I was not obliged to write a positive review of my experiences. I have since returned to the restaurant twice as an anonymous, paying guest.