Birmingham – Turtle Bay

I visited the Turtle Bay in the centre of Birmingham as I had a complete set of rewards stamps which got me a free starter, side and main. I’d add, as a background, Turtle Bay was my favourite chain of restaurants as it was quirky, innovative, reasonably priced and the staff were engaging and welcoming.

The chain mildly irritated me by scrapping their loyalty scheme and replacing it with an inferior one a few months ago. They did send push notifications out to those with the app, but I checked at the time and they decided against mentioning it on social media. I have to admit to wondering whether their decision was financial, but it was sufficient for me to temporarily abandon going to Turtle Bay.

The loyalty scheme did though rollover my rewards so I kept three free dishes, and I’ve wanted to pay a visit to Turtle Bay as I’ve been disappointed hearing three people in different locations telling me that the standards have fallen substantially in recent months. I didn’t quite believe them, so that’s the back story of why I visited this well reviewed branch of the chain.

There’s also one other reason, which is that I had poor food in the Peterborough branch last year and I felt guilty that I wrote up a negative review of it (especially when I saw the access numbers for that post), and have yet to post about my many positive experiences from the chain. So, I was hoping for lots of positivity on this visit.

The interior was large and bright, with the normal quirky and fun decoration. The service was fine, with a prompt welcome and I was taken to a table without any delay. And, being positive here, the service was actually very good as it was attentive, thoughtful and pro-active. The staff member also made an effort to engage with me, making conversation and I felt that she did a good job at trying to build up a rapport with me. Obviously being British there’s a limit to how much engagement I want with anyone, but this was well measured.

I’d also add, before my comments about the food, that everything was brought out after a reasonable amount of time. My drinks were at the appropriate temperature and tasted fine, with plates also cleared away promptly. So, in terms of technical service, everything was fine.

The menu has changed since my last visit, and my first impressions were that it didn’t feel as exciting or as on-trend. There seems to have been a slip back to generic menu items and a rather complex menu structure that has moved away from the previous much simpler one.

This is the chilli squid, which was well presented and the portion size was reasonable. The squid was over-cooked and so rubbery, but it was evenly battered and the coating had a pleasant taste. The jerk mayo added some extra flavour, although I’m not sure why they’ve put so much mayo and mole on top of the squid, as this just made the coating soft instead of crisp.

This is the new jerk chicken and it was possibly the worst attempt at a main course that I’ve experienced in my last few hundred restaurant visits. The quality of the chicken itself was exceptionally poor, it oozed out water and was entirely flavourless. There was clearly no attempt to marinate this chicken in anything, it’s just been briefly cooked in the sauce. I would say in the restaurant’s defence that it was entirely cooked through, but I can’t recall such watery chicken.

I don’t know what the jerk gravy was, it tasted like water and just made the chicken wet. In terms of flavouring, these was absolutely nothing here, with no evidence of any jerk seasoning at all. One reason I liked Turtle Bay is that they have some interesting sauces, so the only way to try and bring any flavour to this dish was to pour on sauce myself. Although that succeeded in me just eating poor quality food in a sauce….

The presence of the watermelon was ridiculous, there were no flavours for it to try and moderate and its presence is perhaps a little pointless at the best of times. This is seemingly a new innovation from the restaurant, but I’d rather they just served chicken which has flavour. I’m not sure why they’re removed the side which they once gave with the jerk chicken, but I was disappointed given that this was once my favourite dish. I didn’t bother to finish much of the chicken, it was a waste of calories.

The spiced fries which I ordered as a side were entirely devoid of any spicing, they just tasted like cheap and generic oven chips. Luckily I had put lots of sauce on the equally bland chicken, so that meant at least I could add some taste to the fries.

In terms of the service, there was nothing wrong here. But, unfortunately, the news I’ve received from others about the decline of Turtle Bay certainly seems to have been borne out here as well. Normally I would have queried the dishes with the staff, but I felt that the decision to serve this quality of food was deliberate from the company and so I was content in just leaving Turtle Bay as quickly as possible.

Personally, I found this quite dreadful, but I’m conscious that other on-line reviews don’t seem to be universally negative, so perhaps this was an entire aberration and my experience was a one-off. I’d already stopped organising group meals here, but I suspect that this is the end of my Turtle Bay visits until I start hearing positive things once again…..