For many of us, checking out review sites before going out to eat is the norm. Especially here in London where there are so many restaurants on offer.
When searching for the best Caribbean food in town, I was surprised to see which ranked number one on Tripadvisor.
National chain, Turtle Bay serves island dishes. But I find it controversial that it is titled “the best”, and I can imagine that it will cause a stir among independent restaurateurs in the Caribbean.
READ MORE: “I ate at London pizzeria named ‘Best in the World’ and it was one of the tastiest meals I have ever eaten”
So, keen on a hearty lunch, I decided to see if my skepticism was justified and headed to Brixton to find out if they deserved that coveted spot at the top.
The chain has over 40 branches in the UK, but the Brixton Road site is ridiculously the best.
Stepping into the bright and vibrantly colored space, I felt a little uncomfortable.
Turtle Bay doesn’t have a reputation for solo dining for a fill. It’s more common to be groups of 18-year-old girls having their first legal sips of alcohol, college crowds swapping a lecture for a happy hour, or a group of millennials having a drink after work. .
Another ominous sign was that I was expecting a hot smell of spices and fresh cooking, but couldn’t smell a thing. In fact, I was so worried that I thought I had Covid again and had to pull out some scented hand sanitizer to check.
It was the gift that I was about to have a particularly boring meal, but I didn’t expect it to be as tasteless as it was.
Highlighted by subtle reggae music and laughing friends over afternoon drinks, I started browsing the extensive menu.
For my lunch, I decided to leave what the menu itself claims to be “legendary” and “a favorite” across the islands; the Chicken Roti Roll and a side dish of Mac ‘n’ Cheese.
The roti roll, topped with avocado, pink onions, lettuce, jerk mayonnaise and, of course, pulled jerk chicken, costs a reasonable £ 8 for a quick lunch. A mac side costs £ 4.40 – they couldn’t spoil something so simple, could they? Spoiler, they did.
Being unusually sensitive, I ordered a “homemade” pink lemonade. I was working so it was a non-alcoholic lunch, but not having a cocktail at Turtle Bay is like not putting cheese in a toast.
This drink was like a bag of candy reduced to liquid. For me personally, it was way too sweet. It wouldn’t even quench your thirst and not having a drop of lemon wasn’t suitable for my taste.
Disappointed with the sugary water in front of me, I didn’t have to wait long for my food to arrive, as pale as it looked.
I first dug into the mac and cheese, topped with chopped chili and chives. He smoked beautifully.
However, I quickly deduced that this high heat was coming from the device in which the side had been warmed. It had to be some kind of pre-made mac and cheese that you would microwave for a sneaky snack. Unless you made it at home, you would probably respect it more.
Okay, this dish tends to be relatively straightforward anyway, and that’s why it’s so good. But Turtle Bay’s crunchy offering didn’t even have a bit of seasoning in its mix.
Moving on to the wrap, I had higher hopes as there seemed to be a little more life going on.
The roast flatbread, “fire-grilled to order” was barely toasted; it was way too mushy and basically anemic in color. Other packaging that I saw circling the tables ranged from blackened areas in the shade of a bottle of milk never seen in the sun.
The shredded jerk chicken was mostly dusted with allspice and no other flavor. It didn’t give me any smoky punches or scotch bonnet whisperings.
I wanted a wrap that would run over my hands, oozing hot juices that I would lick my fingers with shameless bliss. Instead, I ate a dry wrap that craved a good gravy.
There were nice bursts of pink onion, which gave the texture and taste a boost. The avocado, while looking beyond its best, also offered a little flavor that felt as out of place as I was in the increasingly busy hangout.
Shout for the blessing of the small jar of jerky liquid next to the roti roll. A more fiery variation of the allspice taste of dry chicken, it has elevated the husk.
I actually poured it over the mac and cheese as well, which made all the difference.
But, as I dug deeper into the stodge on one side, some of the macaroni pieces were almost mushy. Certainly not “good humor” as the menu suggests.
It was not far while eating these plates of pale sadness that I had a stomach ache. My stomach was instantly punishing me for treating it with such disrespect.
I have to say however that the food was not gross. I certainly managed to eat a little. It was just boring, nothing special.
Irritatingly, it wasn’t until I battled this dry, dull lunch that I realized other tables had been given large bowls of sauces and seasonings with their food. Maybe that’s where the world of flavors was hiding?
I doubt it anyway. I just think there is a major mistake in the way the Tripadvisor listing is created.
When you visit Turtle Bay, you come for the inexpensive cocktails, which we know they excel at. So of course people will give them five stars for that.
While you might really enjoy eating here for some booze – or when you’re about to be out of your face at bottomless brunch, everything tastes amazing – most of those who criticize this place are here only for drinks.
Therefore increasing the odds of this Brixton branch.
Although I am a layman of Caribbean cuisine, I think it is quite misleading to tell people that this is a “go-to” for cooking.
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London is an immensely diverse city, and especially in Brixton there are tons of places where you can find authentic food.
If you are looking for Caribbean food, it doesn’t worth to disappoint your taste buds by going to Turtle Bay, try some of our own recommendations.
Try mini London chains like Rudie’s Jerk Shack across town for street food, or pop into Jamaican Patty Co. in the center.
Another place to visit is definitely Roti Joupa – they make great roti, and it’s next on my list. You’ll find them more easily on Uber Eats and Deliveroo.
Turtle Bay is for drinks and drunk Caribbean food, it’s time to take them out of the top spot.
Go if you want a tasteless snack with a sad side to go with your drinks. If you really want to indulge in a sensation of flavor, go elsewhere.
Do you have a favorite hidden gem restaurant that your readers would love to know about? If so, send an email to [email protected]