Turtle Bay, Nottingham

October 22, 2012

Caribbean food has never made the deep inroads into British culture that Indian food has. You’ll find cafes and restaurant in the big urban centres which serve predominantly people of Caribbean origin, but unless – like me – you’re fortunate enough to have a friend like Dorothy Francis, many people’s encounter with food from the West Indies may be limited to jerk chicken on carnival day.

So I was intrigued to be invited over to Nottingham for the launch of Turtle Bay, the third in a incipient chain of Caribbean restaurants. It’s sited in the Cornerhouse, the big development of cinema, bars and restaurants next to the Royal Centre, neighbouring several other chain staples – in other  words,  right in the mainstream.   And I’m told one of the founders was also behind the Latin Las Iguanas chain. Given the size of the the investment – and the generosity of this launch party  – someone is very confident they can make  a breakthrough.

We had canape versions of the menu and there were some promising signs. Jerk chicken wings had a scotch bonnetty fire about them, and strips of beef had a great tang of allspice that suggests the recipes used are not afraid of using genuine flavours. “Trini Doubles” of stuffed little puffed rotis were gorgeous, as was some citrussy mackerel.  Plaintains were  disappointing and not everything worked and while obviously a place like this will presumably have the strengths and weaknesses of its competitors, there was enough to think I’d like to try the main menu at some point. Staff have been selected for their personality as much as experience and the place wants to develop a party vibe – they certainly gave the place a good launch.

The manager told me that West Indian communities in Southampton and Milton Keynes had given the loal branches a wide berth to begin with, but had slowly come round once they realised the food was ok – well he would say that wouldn’t he?  I’m sure many Jamaicans in Nottingham will be reluctant to admit Turtle Bay can make curry goat like their mum/favoured neghbourhood cafe, but if it can offer people a good time and open the door to a new cuisine it’ll be doing a grand job.

Pheasant, partridge, mallard, snipe etc

Yesterday was quite a day for me. Firstly, City went top of the league  – even if only for two hours – after a fifth win a row. Then there was a lovely sunny morning out at the East Midlands Food Festival. I came back with a bag full of bread from King’s Rd bakery,  cheese, pistachio baklava, wild roe deer steaks, goat, pheasant and one of those very heavy Woll saute pans.The venison I dry-fried in the  pan last night with great success. The pheasant may serve for Sunday lunch today  – it was boned and stuffed which the regular habuitues of Melton’s market may welll consider a bit mimsy but I’m not sure I’ve got the knife skills or the patience to do all that stuff myself.

Very pretty battenberg fudge

It was great to earwig so many conversations from people who had made exciting new discoveries –  and were taking such pleasure in it.  Great, too, to see so many people carrying and reading Great Food magazine, which had struck a deal with the organisers to give a copy – including a festival guide – to everyone at the gate.

Happy shoppers

Just for you, Tara Chakraborti

And finally, there was a nice start to the day, discovering the Leicester Mercury had produced an excellent food themed issue of their Saturday magazine and had listed me as one of thirty-odd Leicestershire food heroes. I’d responded to a request a while back to help suggest a few names for this list (most of which I’m glad to see were taken up) but hadn’t really believed I would be included too. Very honoured to be in that company anyway.


Castle Donington Manor

Poor old Castle Donny feels like a bit of a backwater – hidden away behind an airport, a racetrack and associated car parking and light industry.  Once it had a certain Georgian stateliness. Something which lingers on in the Castle Donnington Manor with its plump bow windows and coaching inn respectability.

Part of the Finesse group,  it now has that status of the posh place in a small country town where you go for birthdays or community group dining events.  Once such venues were notorious for Brown Windsor soup ordinariness  but just as most aspects of the British food scene have picked themselves up over the last thirty years, venues such as the Manor’s Sage restaurant now offer really rather good food.

Its gold painted dining room and fancy chandeliers are trying a bit hard for my liking but this isn’t poncey – in fact the staff were extremely friendly and there was a good relaxed atmosphere when me and Gill visited.

Foodwise,  things started a bit slowly – my marinated smoked salmon with creme fraiche and potato salad was all a bit too well-behaved and needed more than few specks of lime dressing to perk it up. Grilled goat’s cheese with roasted beetroot was much better – good ingredients cooked simply and allowed to sing.  Things looked up further with the main courses. Rump of lamb was perfectly cooked – pinkish, moist and with just enough fat remaining to boost the flavours.  It sat on some soft, young, lightly-spiced leeks and excellent grain mustard mash. There was a separate boat with plenty of gutsy red wine gravy too. A duck leg confit was not bad, and it was lifted to very good when eaten with the gorgeous red cabbage accompaniment and a fruity but not over-sweet shallot gravy.

Deserts took another step up.  A finely-made lemon tart came with fresh berries and a positively dazzling basil ice-cream, a dangerous but inspired matching that really worked.   Finally a plum and ginger tarte tatin was also very well done and showed a touch of invention. It was  not too swathed in caramel and hence the fruit and spice flavours came through strongly.

Food presentation is appealing and waiting staff – young, female, friendly and skilled – were a credit to the place. It may not be cutting edge stylistically, but with good solid, British cooking at three courses for £18, what’s not to like?

Much kudos to the students of Sutton Bonnington campus, who’s efforts to set up a spectacularly successful farmers’ market have been recognised with a shortlisting in the BBC Food and Farming Awards.

With this University of Nottingham campus sited in the countryside north of Loughborough,  a group of four students felt a bit miffed they were unable to access local food. So a pub conversation led to them setting up setting up a market on campus, charging traders just £5 a pop. It’s now grown from 11 to some 35 stalls every week and provides a wide range of rare breed meats and local produce to staff, students and local villagers.

Ironic that I read this on the same day a former colleague who now works at the University of Warwick was despairing at the awful food, including plastic Red Leicester,  at her campus Costcutter store.

Oh and Melton Mowbray farmers’ market – in all its wild game and foraged mushroom glory – was also shortlisted. So two out of three best market nominations were in Leicestershire. Cool.  Results out in late November.

Update 30th November  – They won!  I was lucky to get over to the NEC for the Food and Farming Awards  – a very big deal in food circles. Tried to have a word with the team afterwards but they were swamped with well-wishers before being hauled for a slap-up reception.  Hope they enjoyed it.

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