Tucked away just past Park End Road, a street frequented by Oxford students probably more than any other, lies a Jam Factory with quite a different reputation. More niche than any other venue this side of the Cowley-Jericho divide, The Jam Factory delivers everything the name suggests; it’s quirky, cool and pretty damn sweet.
But a candied menu isn’t all The Jam Factory has to offer, as the multi-purpose arts centre boasts an eclectic timetable of buzzing bohemian activity. On booking, the manager informs me there will be a life drawing class at 8pm should we wish to join, and a peruse around the site reveals The Jam Factory is a popular haunt for Scrabble players, ‘World Beer’ lovers, photographers and more. What’s more, they have acquired a live music license a mere two weeks ago and are optimistic about the future, in terms of the potential of the venue. It doesn’t even seem to matter that the art itself is pretty poor, being at the Jam Factory makes you feel like you are out on a Berocca day reading Candide and pretending to be from the Continent.
The décor follows this trend: it’s artsy and modern, if a little confused. The spacious warehouse-like structure and potted plants give it a casual feel, but don’t entirely match with the 60s-style plastic furniture. The bar, on the other hand, is a little more upscale whilst the ‘gallery’ dining room has a toned down, day-time feel. The waitress shows us the workshop used for life drawing, undoubtedly the aesthetic highlight of the venue. The room has a high ceiling and light, lofty atmosphere that has an effortlessly cool aura about it.
One question remained, then: could the food pull it off? The menu isn’t exactly as edgy as The Jam Factory’s image, but it is of a high quality. British Gastropub with the occasional European staple tomato or Asian spice seems to be the slightly muddled theme, but to a large extent it works. The whitebait starter was a little spicy for a first course, and the arancini (risotto balls) were cooked well, but a tad bland. The smoked poached haddock was fresh, supple and delicious, served on a bed of a light and creamy mash. Equally the venison was tender and fragrant.
Although the dessert (chocolate brownie with ice cream) was distinctly average, The Jam Factory again rectified itself with some fantastic coffee. Their menu states they are ‘proud’ of their ‘blend of five different fair trade Arabicas and Robusta beans’ and it’s not hard to see why. Yet that’s not all they should be proud of in the beverage realm, as they boast a sophisticated wine list and the bottle recommended by our waitress was exactly to our taste. The Jam Factory even supports the local independent brewery ‘The Cotswald Brewing Company’, a commended producer of lager and beer made in the hamlet of Foscot, Oxfordshire.
Overall The Jam Factory is well worth going to, irrespective of it being slightly out of the way. The restaurant is not on the tip of many Oxford students’ tongues, but it is this unique and secretive aspect to it that deems it Cherwell-fficially cool. It’s not cheap, but equally not overpriced; a three course meal for two with wine and coffee came to a total of around £70-£80. With a little time its slightly confused identity and minor flaws will be ironed out, and it will become the place to be seen or to mention. So get there quick, if you’re anyone whose anyone. And remember, you heard it here first.