Review: Turtle Bay, 36-38 Station Road, Solihull, B91 3SB
Smuggling a unicorn birthday cake with pink iced ears through the doors of Solihull’s house of rum and reggae was not our finest hour in subversion.
My partner and I had hoped to be the advance guard in our party of four but found our guest of honour and her husband already parked in the spotlit bar area.
Exchanging waves, we shuffled the package into the hands of manager James, who discreetly conveyed the fairytale-themed afters to the kitchen
Not the kind of entrance one of the dancehall superstars whose music featured on the restaurant’s playlist during the night would make, but then Caribbean culture is all about improvisation.
Carnival speaker stacks booming from flatbed lorries are one example that springs to mind, given the well-judged party feel at this Turtle Bay.
Shedding winter layers under the slow-rotating ceiling fans and bleached, rum-shack themed furniture and décor, we set sail with a happy hour offering two-for-one on cocktails from 7pm.
No rush, no fuss, as they say in Jamaica.
Deviating from script again proved no problem for the staff after I asked for the alcoholic ginger beer I’ve knocked back at other branches, only to find it was no longer on the drinks menu.
Head barman Cameron, a loanee from the Derby branch, had one made up, and an olde glass bottle with a neck of foam was soon fizzing away at the table. A plumage of cocktails beside it included my partner’s Jamaican Mule, consisting of Sailor Jerry spiced rum, fresh lime, ginger beer and bitters, and an Electric Boogie, born of Amaretto, Cockspur gold rum, blue Curacao, lime and apple juice.
One of our party, a designated driver, chose from the alcohol-free cocktails, starting with the Virgin Kolada, a frozen, refreshing breeze of coconut milk and syrup and pineapple juice.
A square beach bar large enough to swing a deckchair in keeps the house stocked to the gills with rum, Red Stripe, Firewater beach shooters and pretty much anything else you could sip with your toes in the sand at an Ocho Rios all-inclusive.
Drifting across the floor past a wall display fashioned from old speakers, we were shown to our seats under draped beach rugs and retro posters advertising shows headlined by Jimmy Cliff, Toots & the Maytals and other greats.
An imaginative but uncluttered two-sided menu that has fused the best from Jamaica, Trinidad and their island neighbours invites diners to share, jerk or ‘one pot’ a helping of Caribbean flavours.
It’s perfect for a group happy to mix-and-match, and my fork was soon roving the plates like dancehall star Beenie Man working the crowd at Sunsplash.
My own dish was a West Indian wrap with a filling of coconut callaloo and curried chickpeas, which came sliced in half on a wooden board. Lightly toasted, it was a delicately-textured affair with the bulging veggie innards and a warm afterglow of spice.
Vegan and vegetarian options are neatly denoted on the menu along with new items.
My partner chose an exceptional jerk salmon, the pale pink steak falling away at the fork under the seared skin in a dish that had the ocean-fresh flavour you might expect at a beach shack together with the refined approach of a more formal restaurant kitchen.
Coconut rice and peas, sweet plantain and dressed salad made up her plate.
Completing our island-themed mains was a brown chicken stew with light, crisp dumplings and a spicy jerk belly of pork.
The latter, which also came with coconut rice and peas as well as chilli pineapple salad, was given a clear-headed nine out of 10 by our table’s driver.
One love prevailed as we dipped into each other’s dishes and sides of curried chickpeas, spiced fries and sweet plantain, every grilled, toasted or stewed element having retained the heat and flavours bestowed in the firing open kitchen within our view.
Server Morgan and her team sprinkled some more sugar and spice on our evening when the unicorn cake re-appeared, this time in full glory with lit candles. After we’d interrupted the Afrobeats to sing happy birthday, the toast of our night blew out the flames on the treat we’d fumbled through the doors on arrival. I demolished a giant slice topped with a chewy unicorn ear and washed down with the rest of my spiced pepper, cloves and lime-infused ginger beer.
We toyed with ordering the Rudegirl and Rudeboy cocktails, both based on Wray & Nephew and Wood’s 100 per cent overproof rums, purely for the names.
While there were no takers, my partner and I could resist the bouncy soundtrack no more, and broke out into a kind of shoulders-upwards dance, continuing once we gathered to our feet towards the end of the evening.
All we needed was a dancefloor.
We did order a Rum Runner, a frozen blend combining the spirit with Amaretto, blackberry, brandy, banana liqueur and lemon juices, among another round of drinks.
The bill came to £81.55, including the discounts during the two-for-one hour.
With the Afrobeats and reggaeton-heavy soundtrack in full sway, we returned to the board game-themed tables front of house for a Jamaican-style nightcap.
This is the closest the high street gets to a culinary reggae party, and we only took our seats to allow the growing crowd some space around the the cool runnings at the bar.
I chose not to ask for a Kingston Kiss from the barman, passing over the ‘beach shooter’ for a humble Red Stripe shandy I shared with my partner.
We left a restaurant that had conjured up some of the best of the Caribbean, while still finding room for a sing-a-long around a sugary unicorn.