When I reviewed Turtle Bay back in November of last year, it was great to, as ever, try a huge variety of what was on offer. As a result, I got to see both the best and blandest dishes that shone a light on the brilliance of Caribbean cuisine but also let it down in places. With its new and long-awaited menu refresh, the Caribbean chain now seems to have truly turned its focus onto the food alongside its brilliant drinks offering with increased plant-based and fresh-tasting options.
This time around I was visiting the newly opened branch in Hammersmith. Still shining from its unveiling just a week ago, it uses the same formula as many of the chain’s other sites but on an even bigger scale. The bar is front and centre as you enter and behind it lies a vast ground floor split into a couple of disctinct sections with tables of varying sizes. Upstairs, another bar and a smaller number seem primed for private hire or particularly busy Friday and Saturday nights.
We kicked things off with the starter and sharing options including the pulled chicken doubles. These are a new twist on their famous ‘Trini Doubles’ that have always been the star dish on offer here. I must say they were one of my favourite things on the day— the combination of avocado and pineapple countered the seasoning of the chicken and barbecue sauce well with the texture a step up from the original dish in my opinion.
There are now vegan jerk chicken options from the jerk pit as well as barbecue ribs. As English ribs go these were also full of flavour and much larger than you often find. The mac and cheese with them was unremarkable in flavour but crispy on top to bring the crunch that any good macaroni needs.
Fried chicken was always my favourite choice at Turtle Bay and with the new menu that much remains unchanged. It is best in the ‘Honey Bunny Yardbird’: This is a Caribbean twist on chicken and waffles and is a stack of roti topped with a boneless chicken thigh, honey and a fried egg as well as watermelon on the side. The combination of flavours here is perfect and it strikes me as the best thought-out dish as well as being a great twist on a brunch classic. The fried chicken is just as good with some rice and beans. The thigh is well browned and the coating carries just enough of a punch to bring flavour but not too much spice for the UK market. Rice has a lot more smokiness to it than so many restaurants that just churn out bog-standard, tasteless grains.
All of the sunshine bowls have been switched up too and for the first time at Turtle Bay, you can get a salad. That is topped with jerk chicken and a good variety of vegetables with a watermelon dressing. The dressing strikes me as a good combo with the flavour of jerk but unfortunately this one is too toned down for me. You can taste it at times but the breast definitely needed more kick to align it with those classic jerk flavours. This does feel like an important dish for Turtle Bay, especially now that all chains must display their calorie counts on menus: the fact that they are now able to offer something under 400 calories will open up the scope for lunches to a large number of people who in the past might have seen this as a ‘cheat-meal’ destination.
Back to plant-based and the jackfruit burger is a huge step up from the vegan fried chicken offering I tried last year. The red onion, lettuce, and tomato bring a freshness to the smoky barbecue sauce and a crunch to the jackfruit texture that makes for a genuinely complete bite. The only disappointment here is the bun which is still too soft and plain for me, lacking in substance and flavour.
Dessert-wise, options are still limited. Usually, this is a positive for me, suggesting that a closer focus ensures quality over quantity. Indeed, the banana toffee cheesecake is another fun take on an English classic with a Caribbean twist and the biscuit base is sufficiently chunky. Unfortunately, the chocolate brownie falls far short. Quite honestly it isn’t a brownie and is entirely cake-like in texture. The coconut ice cream with it helps but there is a total absence of the gooeyness and flavour that make a good brownie. It is worth saying that the manager told us the recipe had recently changed and that the company are working quickly to improve it so it may well be that this isn’t the case for long.
In the past, Turtle Bay was an easy recommendation for me for anyone looking for late-night eats, happy hours, or bottomless brunches. With its new menu though, it has firmly entered the market as an option for lunches and dinners with far more inclusive offerings. Even more so now, it is a potential stop-off at any time of day or night.