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.

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