People know how I feel about chain restaurants, but with so many opening in Chelmsford recently, and about to in the very near future with the Bond St development, you just can't get away from them. The first phase to open has been The Exchange, home to Cote, Carluccios and Turtle Bay so far, and I was excited to have the opportunity to review the latter, especially as we have more Italians than we can shake a stick at! I hadn't heard of this chain before so was looking forward to seeing what Caribbean flavours were on offer, and I wasn't to be disappointed.
From the outside, the restaurant looks vibrant and fun and that theme continues inside when you enter the bar area. By 7.30pm on this Thursday evening, there was already an hour and half wait for a table. The bar and restaurant itself was packed and the noisy chatter and easy music gave a brilliant atmosphere. The cocktail list is huge...mainly rum based for obvious reasons, and the Jamaican Mule with ginger beer and Koko Colada were delicious. I usually opt for beer or wine with food rather than a cocktail, but the creaminess and fruitiness of the Colada was just right to help tame the jerk spices! The other half chose a peanut butter and banana smoothy to accompany his meal, and had to order a spoon to go with it as the straw just wasn’t wide enough to actually suck up any of this delicious drink.
Our waitress, Millie, introduced herself and was lovely all evening, even checking how well we coped with spice before placing our order. She also asked someone else to speak to me regarding the dryness of the Rosé, just in case I fancied a glass with dinner, and he was happy to provide a taster for me. The bar staff were jubilant and efficient, balancing the right mix of friendliness and professionalism, even high fiving my husband! One of my favourite things was the size of the napkins...big. Think tea towels. This is especially important when dealing with jerk chicken, I have discovered!
We chose the Beach Food Platter to share for starters, purely in the interest of you readers of course, so I could feed back on several of the starters rather than just two! Priced at £12.95, you get three of each taster: jerk chicken wings, pepper roti, sweet corn fritters and garlic and herb flatbread. A word of advice...have the wings last. They are incredibly flavourful, but also incredibly spicy. The flatbread had a chilli and mango drizzle across it, which was delicious and the pepper roti was nicely warming. The sweetcorn fritters certainly were tasty but still doughy in the middle...as Paul Hollywood says, I could squish the centre and turn it back to dough. Maybe that's how they serve them in the Caribbean, but a flatter shape would have ensured the middles were cooked through.
My husband couldn't resist the 24hr marinated whole jerk chicken served with Caribbean slaw and sweet potato fries while I opted for onepot Curry Pork Cheeks with sweet potatoes and pineapple chunks. The chicken was amazing, marginally less spicy than the wings for starters but probably because there was less surface area proportionately for the spice to stick to. It was grilled nicely and cut into easy to eat quarters which the OH attempted with knife and fork. I, on the other hand, just used my fingers. The slaw was crisp and crunchy and the sweet potato fries were crisp, and stayed that way, rather than soggy. My pork cheek curry was served in a one pot enamel bowl, half rice n peas and half curry. It didn't look a lot of food when it arrived but, after finishing, I realised it was just the perfect amount. I liked the fact it came with two small squares of flatbread too to mop up any leftover sauce. The pork was slow cooked but on the dry side rather than fall-apart tender. The cubes of meat were quite small so maybe slightly larger pieces would have ensured a more moist bite? The sauce of coconut, however, was delicious, as were the rice n peas.
I didn't have too much room left for dessert so chose a lighter option of BBQ Pineapple with a caramel sauce and coconut ice cream. The pineapple was just the right side of barbecued, and was really tasty, though I just couldn't finish it off. My husband had the Rum and Raisin Bread Pudding which, despite claiming the inability to eat any more after his whole chicken, he polished off in no time!
Bearing in mind my husband chose the priciest thing on the menu, the chicken at £17.50 (a similar price to full rack of ribs and Frankie and Bennys) we averaged £36 per head, which included two drinks each and three courses. I don't think that's bad value at all...if you took my two cocktails off, that's £22 for three big courses!
Service was consistently good throughout the evening, and the atmosphere was buzzing, especially considering they've only been open a few weeks. A few outdoor heaters would have meant we could have had one last cocktail under the stars (well, streetlights) before heading home, and I think all tables should come with a stack of tissues to help mop up the spice tears!
Will we return? Well, as I said, there are a few other new restaurants I'd like to try out first, but yes, we will. I'd like to bring my little girl back to try out the Little Turtle menu as I think she'd love the beach theme and buzziness of it.
Disclaimer: Our meal was complementary for review purposes. All opinions given are my own, honest and truthful.