A look at the new Turtle Bay opening in Manchester, by guest writer Carmen Chapell Elkin.
On Thursday 29th of June, Turtle Bay Manchester opened its doors for a Caribbean night to remember. The restaurant chain, which has branches all across the country, specialises in providing an exotic setting with delicious, spicy Caribbean flavours. The party was certainly in full swing when we arrived: guests were dancing, lights were low and, most importantly, a fabulous live band was playing from the balcony. While blasting out some of the most loved Caribbean songs, the band was great at keeping the atmosphere incredibly upbeat and getting the crowd totally involved. Turtle Bay had invited approximately 1000 guests to preview the restaurant before it officially opened to the public the following evening. When the restaurant is running normally, it sits 150 guests at any one time.
The restaurant’s unusual and well thought out décor – across two floors – really does emulate a Caribbean laid-back vibe; plenty of dark wood surfaces, metal boxes incasing old glass bottles, a neon sign with ‘flying fish and sky juice’… their promise of ‘transporting you to the Caribbean without a plane ticket’ is not all that unfounded. The authenticity is further confirmed through their drinks list: Ting, Red Stripe, Wray & Nephews Overproof white rum and Mount Gay dark rum. Often as a guest it is important to feel you can devour not only the best jerk chicken in the city but also the best Caribbean liquor.
Onto the prime reason for visiting… the food. I should first mention that, as we were enjoying the VIP party, we ate many nibbles but didn’t sit down to a proper meal there. Therefore, I cannot comment on the presentation, the portion sizes or the assembly of the dishes. I can, however, discuss the tit bits that conveniently came our way every thirty seconds, just in time for our next mouthful. The Jerk Pit Ribs were incredibly succulent, meaty and spicy. The mini Pulled Jerk Pork buns were also bursting with different flavours: tender jerk pork, rocket, fresh butternut squash, mango and even coconut. Another definite favourite were heaped spoonfuls of browned slow braised chicken on the bone with rice and peas. We were less impressed with the Jerk Pit Prawns in herb, chilli and garlic butter, and the curried goat was also forgettable. Notice that, apart from sweet potato and plantain, we came across no vegetarian options. After scouring the website’s menu, this seems to be quite representative of the limited non-meat or -fish options. No desserts were offered apart from slices of refreshing watermelon.
In any chain restaurant, there is the risk of having impersonal staff. Not true of Turtle Bay. Young, enthusiastic staff dressed in an easily identifiable red uniform – not identical, just all in red – greet you with a grin and really seem happy to chat to you. The gorgeous hosts at the door received us with larger-than-life smiles and an informal handshake, directing us towards the bar and the food dotted around.
Despite weaving enormous trays through the throng of guests, all the staff appeared upbeat and fully embraced the party mood – most, in fact, were dancing the trays through the crowd. Another feature – if this was the initiative of the couple of people I spoke to great, or if it was a suggestion of the management, even better – all staff introduce themselves as soon as they approach. Such was the case with a friendly, knowledgeable Dan who immediately acquainted himself with us, and informed us in a very friendly way that Turtle Bay was “the same price as Nando’s” and of their great cocktail offers. It is undoubtedly a skill to balance selling your product and making your audience feel entirely at ease with you, something Dan did effortlessly. He made me feel like he was a friend recommending a new place, rather than the employee of said establishment. Throughout the evening, I felt without exception the staff – chefs, hosts, waiters, bar staff – had perfected their approach to the public.
It would be hard to pinpoint the best part of our evening at Turtle Bay. It is a close call between the staff’s expert manner, deliciously flavoursome food, original décor and sincere, upbeat party atmosphere. As mentioned already, vegetarians would struggle at this restaurant. It would definitely be worth returning on a normal night to experience a regular meal with the restaurant. I am intrigued to see how the ambience would change: what a full meal looks and tastes like, whether the live band would still perform and, of course… sample dessert.