Out of my close circle of friends, it is The Artist Formally Known as Craig that I have known the longest. Since meeting him in a dodgy nightclub when I was eighteen whilst wearing a see-through black shirt, we have had a decade misbehaving and chasing girls, followed by half a decade reminiscing of our glory days whilst being all grown up and monogamous. As the city has evolved around us, so have we: I have steered away from the dodgy fashion faux-pas and he no longer has his birth name; instead choosing to be legally known as something far more pretentious, hand-picked from a phone directory after a few beers, which I will spare him the blushes of here. He’s a good lad with a great heart and horrendous taste in food, which is why I should never have let him choose where we would eat as a final meal before he leaves these shores for Canada next week. He sends a text message to me suggesting “Turtle Head”, which I take to be Turtle Bay – a Caribbean restaurant on John Bright Street I’ve been meaning to try for some time. In hindsight I should have double-checked where he meant; perhaps I could have ended up with a dinner I would eat.
Inside Turtle Bay is a space of neon lights, corrugated steel and bare brick walls with murals of generic Caribbean imagery, such as the Jamaican flag. In truth, the interior is a success; it has warmth and cosiness despite the industrial girders and bare concrete flooring. The food is anything but a success, veering from being very average to very bad. Average would be the flatbread, overworked and dressed with limp rocket leaves. The very bad were the duck rolls, three pieces, each dry and cloyingly sweet. Served with this was a sour orange chutney which was essentially a bitter marmalade with added raisins that destroyed the already limited flavour of the poultry. I understand that on paper it should provide contrast, but really, someone from head office should try it before sanctioning it. If I have ever eaten a more ill-judged starter it has been long banished from my memory banks.
Jerk chicken is a dish that I have loved ever since a holiday in Montego Bay ten years ago, where they cook it roadside on reversed metal bin lids. At best the bird has depth and heat from Allspice and Scotch Bonnet which infiltrate the meat from a lengthy marinade. Here they had succeeded in keeping the chicken moist, but I doubt the meat had spent long enough in the marinade as it was lacking in the flavour I have come to expect from good jerk cooking. There were a portion of sweet potato fries which seem to have appeared everywhere, a clumpy red cabbage ‘slaw and an additional side of heavy and dried out fried dumplings. The dumplings are yours for £2.35 to look at and wonder why you ever bothered. Better was a browned chicken stew with rice and more of the tired dumplings. The chicken having good flavour from the slow braise in the cooking liqueur. Both main courses are a few pence under a tenner. I can think of at least two places in the city where superior examples can be had for half that price.
I’ll try to be positive here: They do good cocktails and sell Guinness Punch with rum that could fuel an army. Its a nice place to enjoy a drink and they have Happy Hour everyday. But that’s it. I haven’t anything positive to say about the food which is essentially New Generation Nando’s, only with better booze and Bob Marley on the stereo. Our waitress, who, I should point out was utterly charming, asked how everything was. I mumble “okay” because she was too nice to be told otherwise. I’ll be sad to see The Artist Formally Known as Craig leave, though he can gladly take the terrible choice in restaurants with him.