A festival of light greeted us as we made our way inside Turtle Bay in Preston, a place lovingly decorated to look as Caribbean as the proverbial coconut.
Being a Friday evening, whoever was the DJ for the night had possibly got over-excited as the tunes being blasted out were those you’d normally hear on the dance floor at a cheesy nightclub.
Fortunately, they were kicked off the decks halfway through our meal and much more relaxing Bob Marley-esque music was allowed to complement the surroundings. The food itself even started to taste better once the reggae and calypso sounds began to wash over us.
Before looking at the menu, we ordered drinks from our friendly waiter, Will, who was our host for the evening. I went for the most thirst-quenching drinks I could find after spending much of the previous hour running around like a madman – I’m training to run a 5k in under 25 minutes, a ridiculous ambition for a food critic I know.
And boy, did those drinks from the ‘Caribbean Softs’ menu hit the spot. The limeade, home-made with freshly squeezed limes and club soda, came in what looked like a used milk bottle, making me feel like it had just been served to me at a beach-side bar. The watermelon crush, fresh watermelon blended until smooth with ice, was like a slushy but with a much cooler vibe. Both came in at a pricy £3.60 each.
Before ordering the food, I took my time checking out the menu that has been relaunched this year after getting customer feedback – it now offers plenty more fish and vegetarian dishes.
We chose three starters: whitebait with fresh jerk and lime mayo (£5.10), jerk pit wings with sour orange chutney (£5.10) and glazed pit baby back pork ribs with sweet mango chilli sauce (£5.50).
The whitebait were nice and crispy but I couldn’t detect any lime in the lime mayo.
The meat on the slow-cooked ribs came off the bone effortlessly and was covered in the finger-licking-good chunky mango chilli sauce.
The wings were mid-range spicy and well-cooked too although the sour orange chutney could have been boiled down a little more.
It was too watery and just ended up sitting under the wings in the dish rather than coating them.
For our mains, we went for the festival salad(£7.50)with garlic and chilli king prawns (£3) that was a feast for the eyes. But be warned, the king prawns have to be dismantled yourself, not an easy task for the squeamish. The other main, braised pork belly (£12.50), did not have the crispy pork rind – as was described on the menu – and came with cocunut rice that was a little dry for my tastes. But that was helped by our truly wonderful sides, the watermelon chow and mango chow – both zesty salsas cost £2.80 each.
So is this place the real deal when it comes to Caribbean grub or is it just another chain dumbing down for the masses? Perhaps a little, yes, but I’ve still got a bit of a Caribbean crush for this place.