Turtle Bay is that rare breed of chain restaurant. Blessed with a cult following and a larger than life personality that its peers could only dream of, they also manage to serve up consistently good food. Sure, Caribbean foodie purists may argue that it can’t compete with their local independent, but don’t they always say that?
It’s a brand that you can’t help but like. Just a few years ago, I recall watching a young man propose to his girlfriend in the Leeds restaurant, much to the surprise of everyone present (thankfully, she said yes). You certainly wouldn’t have seen this in Jamie Oliver’s now defunct restaurant down the road.
Our recent visit coincided with the launch of their brand-new menu, which balances their classic signature dishes with some hot as hell new entries.
For starters, we opted for the brand-new Duck Open Roti, which impressed with its tender duck and coriander, island dressing and lime topping. Unfortunately, the Crispy Chilli Squid had sold out, so we went with the tried and tested Jerk Pit Wings, which were reassuringly meaty and doused in their signature jerk BBQ sauce.
As we were dining during happy hour, we washed our starters down with a round of Beachcombers Zombie cocktails. Not for the faint of heart, this strong and fruity blend includes Cockspur Rum, overproof dark rum, absinthe, grenadine, lemon and pineapple juice. Stick to one and you’ll be fine, anymore and you’ll probably leave with a bit of a wobble.
For the main course, there was only one option for me. The Five Alarm Curry Chicken packs an eye-watering selection of the world’s hottest chillies, including Trinidad Scorpion, Carolina Reaper and Scotch Bonnet. And, where so many so-called hot dishes served in UK restaurants disappoint, this one delivered.
Served with coconut rice and peas, the soft, slow-cooked chicken was pure perfection. The warming infusion of the five spices brings fire to the belly, but without compromising on the other ingredients present.
Across the table, the Mac ‘N’ Cheese with pulled chicken, garlic crumb, red chillies and chive was also hitting all the high notes. Taken from the Soul Food section of the menu, this homely dish was beautifully cooked to ensure not a scrap of the macaroni cheese was crispy and overdone.
Meanwhile, a new Thursday night DJ was getting off to a bit of a shaky start with his overly loud music and disturbing gunshot sound effects. A nice idea, but his playlist was perhaps better suited to a later slot and was provoking customers to laugh out loud rather than dance. Maybe Leeds isn’t quite ready for the so-called clubstaurant craze that’s currently sweeping London.
We finished up with double scoops of homemade Fiery Ginger and Coconut ice-cream, which is the ideal way to settle your stomach after so much heat. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve dined at Turtle Bay in both Leeds and Manchester, but they’ve always been consistently strong and offer more bang for your buck than your average causal dining spot. Hit them up during their 2-4-1 cocktail offer and you can’t go wrong.
Turtle Bay, 14 The Light, The Headrow, Leeds, LS1 8TL.