Despite being open for a few weeks now somehow I’d not yet managed to make it to one of Peterborough’s hottest new restaurants, so when Turtle Bay invited me over for a review I didn’t hang around.
With the children packed off to the grandparents for the night, my wife and I headed out to Turtle Bay to put the menu through it’s paces.
After a week of pretty miserable weather for July (British Summer?) we were in luck that the sun was shining, allowing people to drink and dine outside, giving the restaurant a great atmosphere before we’d even stepped through the door. Once inside, a reggae-inspired music playlist set the scene for an energetic dining experience.
A restaurant and a bar
Turtle Bay sell themselves as both a restaurant and a bar – with seating around the bar, outside and to one side of the restaurant for those that are there mainly to drink. As the venue being a new addition to Peterborough the bar is clearly in demand and at times I think it suffers from it’s own success, with bartenders being unable to keep up with demand for mixing cocktails. Maybe in today’s fast paced on-demand society sometimes we need reminding to be a bit patient. So if you are heading here for a drink, embrace the laid-back Jamaican vibe, sit back and appreciate that good things take time.
Conveniently I’d made the reservation for early evening whilst happy hour was in full-swing so it would have been rude to refuse the 2-4-1 offer on cocktails. True to their Jamaican-inspired brand, many of Turtle Bay’s drinks (and desserts!) centre around rum. For those that aren’t a fan of the spirit don’t worry, there are plenty of alternatives (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) where rum doesn’t get a look-in. I’m pretty sure the bar will also happily swap the rum in your cocktail for another spirit should vodka, gin, etc be more to your tastes. For those avoiding alcohol there’s also a good selection of mocktails and soft drinks so you won’t miss out on the “good times”.
With a Negroni being one of my go-to cocktails, Turtle Bay’s rum-based interpretation got my attention. In retrospect swapping the traditional gin for a rum is such an obvious move and adds a slight sweetness to the drink, making this quite possibly my new favourite tipple. I gave the Tobago Tea a whirl (think Long Island Iced Tea but swapping cola for mango and lemonade) but found this a bit too fruity for my taste.
Just to be clear, this place is loud in every sense of the word. The decor is bright and vibrant, the food pulls no punches with flavour and of course there’s the music which might be too loud at times but this is not a place to go for a quiet romantic meal. If you want a lively, friendly experience with family or friends then you’ve found it with Turtle Bay.
The main dining area is decked out in the style of a Jamaican beach bar with lanterns strung around the room. On the ceiling we find plastic crates which as I type sounds pretty bizarre but works as a focal point – it got my attention at least.
Finally, the food!
Now I’ve hopefully set the scene it’s time to talk about the main event, the food – this is what we came for after all.
As a chilli-fanatic I’m the one that will normally be covering everything in the hottest sauce available. I’ve even been known to take my own preferred sauce to a restaurant, knowing what they had to offer wasn’t to my (borderline insane) standard. I’ll scan the symbols next to menu items looking for the ones with that elusive chilli symbol that denotes heat. I’ll order the extra-extra hot variety of whatever is on offer. You get the idea.
Knowing that Jamaican food was renowned for it’s use of spices and more specifically Scotch Bonnet chilli peppers, I was a little bit curious why the Turtle Bay menu was fairly conservative with describing the (chilli) heat of the food. Was this going to turn into the typical scenario where everything is “spicy” but really, it’s nothing of the sort? The good news is I needn’t have worried. In fact I was surprised at how much kick some of the dishes had and when commenting on the heat the waitress even offered milk. A kind gesture but not necessary thanks!
So I suppose what I’m saying is be aware that this food lives up to the reputation of flavour-packed, well-spiced Jamaican food.
There were so many tempting starters on the menu the decision was made easier by going for the Just Jerk Platter, with an added portion of the delicious Trini Doubles – spiced chickpeas served on a roti flatbread. Unlike some restaurants where you sometimes feel short-changed with starters “to share”, the Just Jerk Platter is mostly generously portioned and earns it’s sharing badge with enough of each of the pork and beef ribs, jerk chicken wings and sweetcorn fritters to go around. Whilst the sum of the dishes on the platter was substantial, I felt a couple of dishes were a bit lacking when compared to the stand-out meat dishes. Without going into too much detail, it’s probably easiest to describe each platter dish individually.
Pork ribs and beef riblets: These were centrepiece of the platter for me, deep intense jerk flavours with a very respectable chilli kick.
Jerk chicken wings: A couple of meaty chicken wings in Turtle Bay’s signature jerk marinade. A good decider if you’re considering the jerk chicken for a main course.
Sweetcorn fritters: The three substantial fritters were cunningly laced with scotch bonnet chilli to surprise an unwitting diner. Just when you thought you were safe after the spices on the meat items, this sneaks in a chilli kick when you least expect it. I could eat these all day!
Jamaican beef patty: Despite tasting great (the typical turmeric-laden pastry with spiced filling is hard to beat), these were smaller in comparison to other dishes and felt a bit unbalanced, which was a shame as they were so moorish.
Spice popcorn: This was interesting, certainly tasty but I’m not sure it was really necessary. I think it would be better to serve a complementary portion of this at the start of the meal whilst enjoying a drink.
Super green salad: I presume the salad was intended as a kind of palette cleanser against the punchy flavours on the rest of the platter and maybe my mouth was still tingling from the jerk seasoning but I found the salad was just a bit tasteless. If anything I would have liked the Trini Watermelon Chow here instead for a bit more interest.
Any criticisms above are genuinely minor and I would have no hesitation in ordering this platter again on my next visit.
For our main courses we had coconut jerk glaze babyback pork ribs and the curry goat one pot. Both are popular items on the menu so there were no surprises here. The pork ribs were a continuation of the excellent ribs we encountered in the starter but this time with a coconut glaze. There’s only so many times you can write about how good jerk ribs are, but here’s another one for good measure. If you find you’re fighting with yourself over which dish to choose at Turtle Bay, make your life easier, go for the ribs and be confident that you’re about to tuck into a pretty awesome plate of food.
When it comes to goat curry I’ve come to expect big things where this choice of meat is concerned. It’s a meat that can carry off a lot of flavour and spice so it’s normally a safe bet when you see it on the menu, and Turtle Bay’s version is no different. I would have liked the spices a bit hotter as I think the dish could handle it but I appreciate there’s a balance to be had for catering to the majority when it comes to chilli tolerance.
Whilst I’ve had thicker, richer goat curries elsewhere, for me the star of the dish was oddly the accompanying potatoes. Combined with the curry, rice and peas, the potatoes brought the whole dish together. A portion of two festival dumplings was also included but I found these a bit dry. Perhaps that was the intention as throwing them into the curry pot soon made them more softer and more palatable but personally I like to see these swapped for a portion of the paratha roti.
Save space in your dessert stomach
At this stage we were both pretty full but I couldn’t end a review there. It’s a tough job but I felt it was only right that we brave the puddings in order to offer a complete write-up…
If the idea of a triple-layered banana and toffee cheesecake sounds like your idea of dessert heaven then your prayers have been answered. This sizeable slice of cheesecake served with a toffee sauce was good yet possibly a bit too heavy after our other food and a few drinks. Luckily the cheesecake wasn’t my choice – I’d gone for the “Caymans Upside Down Rum Cake” for my dessert and I’m so glad I did. Steeped with rum, the sponge was light but boozy with the accompanying ice cream doing it’s job to calm everything down. I’m not sure how much alcohol is actually in it but maybe get someone else to drive home…
Staff were excellent throughout the meal, being attentive and helpful. At the start of the meal there was a fault with the ordering system but it didn’t dampen spirits during what looked like a busy evening service.
It’s hard to remain unbiased when someone else is picking up the bill but honestly, I wouldn’t hesitate returning to Turtle Bay as there are a few other dishes on the menu that I’d like to try next time.
You’re still here?
Well done if you made it this far. So, you want to know if Turtle Bay deserves a visit? If you like spicy food, punchy Jamaican cuisine, rum or are looking for a casual party dining experience with friends then go to Turtle Bay. This is possibly now one of my top choices for dining out in Peterborough.
Restaurant contact details
(Ignore the Queensgate address as the entrance is on St John’s Square!)
Turtle Bay Peterborough
46 Queensgate Shopping Centre,
If you’ve already visited the Peterborough Turtle Bay or are planning to go in the near future, let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!