Southampton: a place that previously has been for business rather than pleasure - and its a push even to say that. I worked in Southampton on a store closure team for a week last year, spending days inputting stock data on to systems, packing boxes and loading lorries. After a hard days work, the only pleasure we got from the day is the meal we could put through expenses at the end of it. We accrued some favourite haunts during our time in Southampton and it seemed almost criminal to bypass them when we were so close by in the New Forest. So here we are...our lunch and dinner favourites in Southampton. Turtle Bay and Dock O' The Bay.
What I love about this restaurant is its simple approach. With its basis of fresh ingredients, it never makes any fuss about things - just does simple food in an exemplary fashion, which explains its loyal following in this obscure corner of town for the last 14 years!
Lunch: Turtle Bay
Turtle Bay is a colourful, Caribbean restaurant which is guaranteed to
wake you up give you a pick me up after the morning desk snooze. In central Southampton, only a stones throw away from West Key shopping centre, you won't have to go out of your way to spice up your day (and maybe sneak a happy hour cocktail in...don't worry, I won't tell the boss). With its colourful murals and reggae style music, as well as the cute veranda style seating areas (my favourite place to sit for dinner dates) and laid back friendly staff, the environment itself is enough to put a smile on your face.
A variety of dishes are on offer from their Jerk BBQ grills, gorgeous one pots (my personal faves), their lunch 'n' light meals and cutters (which are either starters or tapas, depending on the way you look at it!). Whilst usually I am a one-pot girl through and through (with the Trini fish curry, Trinidad curry chicken and Curry, shrimp and mango all under my belt), there is one cutter that I can't resist and that is the Jerk Pit Prawns. If they did this in main course size I don't think I would ever leave. It is not attractive to eat in male company (think sauce everywhere and stinking of seafood the whole night) but in my opinion Rich can just put up with it: they are food heaven!
On this particular visit, I decided cutters were the way forward: Jerk pit prawns (non negotiable) and pulled Jerk pork.
Rich had the pork as a starter last time we came (to celebrate the end of my exams in Bristol...was that really 6 months ago?!) and I had serious good envy. Slow roast pulled jerk pork, rocket, fresh butternut squash, mango, organge and coconut shavings is the menu description - I can assure you it is a foodgasm on a plate.
Their cocktails are also not to be frowned at (especially on Happy Hour - which seems more like Happy Afternoon!). My personal favourite is Jammin' (a la Mr Marley): White rum, apricot liquer, fresh mint, ginger, lime, apple juice and apricot jam (served on a spoon!) - maybe reserved for those with a sweet tooth or those who count cocktails as desert as I do!
Not just limited to Bristol, Turtle Bay are a thriving business who are popping up all over the place. They currently have restaurants in Bristol, Leicester, Nottingham and Milton Keynes and soon to be opening branches in Bath, Birmingham and Leamington Spa. I literally think my prayers have been answer when it comes to Turtle Bay coming to Bath...! A Turtle Bay visit was always a special occasion (even if the Bristol branch is only about half an hour away). This could mean serious trouble for my bank balance for the whole of final year but also a place to celebrate my graduation in 2015 (fingers crossed!). If you haven't already chanced upon it, your life is not yet complete!
Dinner: Dock O' The Bay
Now Dock O' The Bay is certainly a different kind of bay all together. If Turtle Bay is the steel drum party, shack serving drink, sandy BBQ pit kind of bay, then Dock O' The Bay is the bay of lapping waves, serenity and butler service to double bed style sun loungers. Both charming in their own ways! Rich actually chanced upon this gem on his longer stint in Southampton store managing (mainly because it is opposite the Travel Lodge they always shoved him in!). Its location gives no clue to how awesome it is...an unsuspecting parade of shops that it shares with Domino's pizza and an opticians.
The restaurant has a really laid back vibe. I love the art filled space from the huge wall mural to all the hanging pieces towards the back of the restaurant and that gorgeous distressed wood floor. On all different levels, the restaurant makes a clever use of space and even when its busy (which is nigh on always) you never feel crowded. The staff are always so friendly, never rushing you with some even recognising us from our last trip over a year ago.
With the rotten hang over I had when I arrived for an early dinner (one which I had been nursing all day), I thought there was nothing much that could take my fancy...but how wrong I was. I opted for the honey roast chicken breast with root vegetable mash, buttered kale and honey and mustard cream sauce. Not being a fan of kale, they quickly and kindly substituted in roasted courgettes.
STOP THE PRESS: Dock O' The Bay should have a patent on the quickest hangover cure known to man!
Its official I might have to move in next door to this place!!
Rich's slow roasted pork belly with crispy crackling, spring onion mash, red cabbage and cider jus - what he had been looking forward to all day if not all year!
The best way to describe the food is restaurant luxury home cooking - something you think you could recreate, but if you tried would fail every time. Magical fingers is what these chefs have. I have too much love for this restaurant and its staff. As an independent, its not often that we get to visit (we figure 2 hours each way is a bit of a commute) but its a place that we have fond memories of and will revisit time after time when we get the chance. Any plans for a Somerset branch would be gratefully received.