Newcastle’s colourful Caribbean restaurant arrived on the scene back in February last year and has been transporting diners and drinkers to a far-off, tropical land of rum, reggae and hot sauce ever since. The celebratory atmosphere is still infectious; drinks flow all evening long, Bob Marley jams ooze from the stereo, the staff are upbeat and super accommodating and laughter erupts from just about every corner. Visit with a group of chums on a Friday night and toast to the weekend, or stop by the night before you jet off to warmer climes – it’s the perfect place in which to get into the holiday spirit. Surrender to the cool, carnival-style vibes!
We love the design; it’s super inviting and will make you feel a million miles away from home on grey, wet evening (and we seem to be having a lot of those at the minute), without feeling overly gimmicky. The twinkling lights are low and hazy, but everything else is as bright and vibrant as can be, from the beach shack-style rum bar and traditional Caribbean-style kitchen, to the jazzy floor tiles, graffiti-style paintwork splashed on the walls and Caribbean flags that adorn the ceiling.
The restaurant has sourced over 40 rums from across the Caribbean and infused them into all its cocktails (£6.95 each). They all have their own personality (cool names like Tobago Tea, Tingwray and Bahama Mama) and unique flavour, but most are strong and on the sweet side – just how rum-infused tipples should be in our opinion. The Passion Rum Punch (dark rum, Passoã liqueur, orange juice, passion fruit and a squeeze of lemon) took us to paradise.
Authentic, home-style Caribbean cuisine – nothing more, nothing less. Cool cooking with hot flavours that’ll have you licking your lips (and perhaps knocking back the water depending on what you go for) and wanting more. Lots of jerk pit and jerk glazed loveliness, from whole shell-on tiger prawns to crispy, chicken wings and slow-braised pork and beef ribs, to curried goat and West Indian steamed snapper done BBQ-style (the best way) in foil. Tons of great provisions, too, to get you started and keep you going (the cheesy jerk fries and fiery sweetcorn fritters, dipped in hot sauce, are some of our favourites). Recently, the restaurant upped its game on the foodie front by adding a surprisingly varied – and delicious – selection of brand new vegan and veggie options, proving that Caribbean grub isn’t all meat, rice and peas!
What we ate
This visit was all about the new dishes on offer and so, with wide eyes and greedy bellies, we tried them all. The vital veggie platter (£12.95) is designed for two and gives diners a taste of all the new vegan and veggie starters. We say dig in, share, try a bit of everything and eat with your hands – it’s all part of the fun. Highlights, for us, included the ‘okra ladies’ fingers’ (a bit like Africa’s version of podded peas – reminiscent of mange tout), coated in a delicately spiced panko crumb with zingy mango mole, jerk pit grilled mushrooms (juicy and as big as your palm) and stuffed pepper ‘roti’ – a Caribbean take on a Geordie pasty, oven-baked and filled with gooey cheese, carrots, spiced potato and onion, served with a scotch bonnet and herb mayo for dunking. The ‘trini doubles’ were a big hit with our dining chum (a vegan); street vendor-style, puffed up flatbreads, filled with spiced curried chickpeas, cucumber, mango chutney with fresh shredded coconut. Divine. For mains, we sampled the two main players; the spinach, aubergine and sweet potato curry and the ‘rundown’ curry (both £9.95). Both are similar, but go for the second one if you like your curries on the sweeter, milder side, or the first if you have a hankering for veggies. We loved the comforting thickness of the sweet potato option; a hearty, home-comfort bowl of goodness, filled with fluffy kidney beans and fresh, crunchy green beans and sugar snap peas, cooked in fragrant Jamaican spices. The ‘rundown’ offers something a little more tropical; corn, butter beans, carrots and fleshy sweet potato chunks cooked in a creamy, spiced coconut sauce (a total revelation), served with coconut rice ‘n’ peas and plenty of roti flatbread to mop everything up with. On the side, we opted for one of the new and vibrant ‘beach salads’, this time with avocado (perfectly ripe), butternut squash, fresh mango ribbons and big hunks of goats cheese, dressed in a zingy citrus lime dressing. Portion size was spot on for two. Dessert was a game of two halves; one light and oh-so-summery – caramelised, grilled pineapple, smothered in a super boozy rum caramel sauce, with coconut ice-cream (with bits in – loved it) and the other a little more stodgy – rum and raisin bread and butter pudding. If you haven’t tried this before, you need to. In fact, we’d urge you to visit just for this dish alone. Essentially a door stop-size hunk of buttery white bread, slow-baked with a heaped and heady amount of cinnamon and brown sugar for a warm, caramel-like kick, bathed in a good glug of dark rum and served with a snow-white, speckled scoop of vanilla ice cream. Devouring it feels like dying and going to culinary heaven – just with Bob Marley serenading you in the background. Turtle Bay, you’ve done it again.