Tucked away in a little back street just off Pulteney Bridge you can find a gaudy-coloured shopfront gloating quality Caribbean food and cocktails. The bright blue and yellow facade doesn’t fit well with the typical Bath architecture, and would be jarring were it not just a glimpse in your peripheries as you glide past on your way to or from Weir Lounge. With some great lunchtime deals and a generous happy hour (12PM-7PM and 10PM-Close) with 2-for-1 cocktails, Turtle Bay remains one of Bath’s unsung, and unknown gems. A spliff-smoking bobsleighing dread-wearing reggae-listening rebel amongst the stiff-lipped top-hat-wearing gentry of Great Pulteney Street.
But the rebellion doesn’t stop at the exterior. The bright colours extend further inside with the island bar resembling a caribbean shack and the rustic walls tastefully adorned with a few reggae concert posters. The offerings on the menu are just as exciting. West Indian spice was the theme of the day, specifically scotch bonnet; the infamously hot pepper. This ingredient was visible in every course: from the jerk chicken wings to the slaw, and even in the chocolate ganache to finish.
The cocktail menu represents a Caribbean take on more traditional cocktails. We opted for a “West-Indies”. A fusion of rum, blackberry liqueur, falernum (a traditional Jamaican drink ingredient), honey and apple juice. This comes under the category of cocktails that is dangerous to drink – it doesn’t taste alcoholic and is very moreish. Our second choice was the Jamaican Mule – spiced rum, fresh lime and home-made ginger beer. The kick from the ginger beer was palpable, but the smoothness of the vanilla balanced it out and the lime provided a fresh aftertaste. I recommend following the advice of Harry Craddock, author of the legendary Savoy Cocktail Book, when he says “The way to drink a cocktail is quickly, while it’s still laughing at you.” (Non-alcoholic alternatives are available). If the Jamaican Mule is left too long, the dilution doesn’t aid the taste. That said, I still ended up finishing the drink. The last drink we ordered was an apparently traditional Guiness Punch. This involves mixing the famous stout with vanilla, nutmeg and a large dollop of condensed milk. The outcome is a beautifully thick, sweet, alcoholic milkshake.
I had never experienced Caribbean food before. I didn’t know what to expect, but I must admit I’m pleasantly surprised. The selection of starters was huge: sweetcorn fritters, pepper roti (a filo pastry concoction with a potato, cheese and carrot filling), jerk chicken wings, “Trinidoubles” (deep-fried roti with a chickpea curry), jerk prawns, chilli fried squid and a caribbean-style garlic bread. Aside from a couple of disappointments (I don’t know why my expectations of seafood in this country are so high), these were all of a high quality. First place has to go to the jerk chicken wings, with their sweet skin and the flesh that falls of the bone and melts in your mouth, followed closely by the chilli fried squid. Comfort food is key in this restaurant and that was covered competently by the sweetcorn fritters and the pepper roti.
Moving on to the mains, my notes are visibly more stained: the detritus from this eating fest was being thrown about like childish ad hominem attacks in the house of commons. There wasn’t enough space in my stomach for everything, but I wanted everything in there. The Blue Mountain curry goat was served in one pot with rice, sweet onion chutney and flatbread on the side. The flavour was sweet and homely, and without the kick of the jerk seasoning, it’s probably one for those of you whose lives are spicy enough. Including the potatoes in the curry, I count three sources of carbohydrates – probably not the right dish to go for if you’re on the Atkins diet, but delicious all the same. If you are looking for something lighter, I would recommend our second main: the salmon salad. This dish comes with a jerk glaze, watermelon, mixed salad with fruity bits and fish grilled to perfection. The crispy skin and the spice of the classic jerk sauce were key to this meal’s success.
The main event, however, was the rack of jerk ribs. Served with sweet potato fries and the aforementioned slaw, I tried to cut into the meat, expecting to have to carve it off the bone but I was very much mistaken – it easily fell off the ribs and the spicy flavour of the jerk sauce remained on the tender meat. This is a must-try.
Puddings were just as exciting. The spiced chocolate pot tastes strangely like a mousse version of a Terry’s chocolate orange… only with a gentle kick from a scotch bonnet involved in the production. This kick slowly grows on you and by the end is pleasantly warming.
Overall, a fantastic experience of home-cooked home-comfort Caribbean food to warm any soul. Definitely recommend a visit to this little taste of the Caribbean tucked away in Bath, even if its just for the cocktails and a few tasty starters to share between friends. With their student friendly prices (and 10% off for take-aways), theres no real reason why you shouldn’t take a visit to Turtle Bay and experience the rack of jerk ribs for yourself!
Photo credits: Turtle Bay