Indie Oxford Discover: The Jam Factory
When the good times feel few and far between, great food, cosy evenings, and an awesome cocktail or two can go a long way. With the tightening of measures this week, it looks like we’re in this for the long haul, so simple local pleasures are going to be the key to our wellbeing and resilience over the coming months.
And Oxford’s indies can help. Local restaurants, cafes, pubs and shops offer a welcome shelter in the Covid storm, each with a unique vibe, so there’s lots of ways to keep the good times rolling.
Last week, we headed to The Jam Factory, in the west end of the city to find out how they are adapting to the new normal we find ourselves in, and why it’s a shining light for locals. >>
The Jam Factory first opened it’s doors in November 2006. It seemed like the perfect light and quirky venue for a restaurant and gallery space, the brainchild of founder Andrew Norton. 15 years on, The Jam Factory has become synonymous with the Oxford art scene, hosting 100s of artists through it’s time, including many local artists and illustrators.
They are currently hosting a huge exhibition by artist David Armitage, one of the UK’s leading abstract artists and colourists, across the whole venue, with pieces spanning his career from book illustrations to large abstract paintings. The exhibition runs until 19th October, so make sure you catch it before it ends.
Following David’s exhibition, JF will be hosting two projects. One will be celebrating Photo Oxford Festival with work from Elena Gallina from 12th October, and the other will be Artisans Reunited, a celebration of friendship, creativity and endurance, which you can check out from 20th October.
The Jam Factory is now a family affair with Claire Gaskell joining her brother Andrew on the management team. Family and community is a core part of JF’s values, with a low staff turnover, and real feeling of togetherness that adds to the welcoming atmosphere. General Manager Georgia is a great host, easy to chat to and a dab hand at cocktails – the Summer Gin Punch with apple and elderflower was a winner for me!
The team ethos extends to the relationship with their suppliers too. The lockdown has meant that The Jam Factory has had limited events, weddings and business meetings to host this year, however it has meant that they have been able to work on their business and really focus on their community roots. As a result of catering for smaller numbers, chef Tris has been able to get creative in the kitchen and enjoy working with local suppliers, foster new relationships with day boats to get the freshest catch, and create a changing menu that reflects the seasons.
Dishes this week include Grain and kimchi superfood salad, blueberry vinaigrette, and Monkfish tail, potato and herb croquette, king prawns, tomato concasse. Last week we had a totally delicious meal of Sea Bream, Prawns, Samphire, Spinach, Sauteed New Potatoes and Capers, and Lamb Rump, Fine Beans, Gratin Potato with a Rhubarb and Chilli Compote. Definitely leave room for a dessert too, the Dark chocolate and orange tart with vegan vanilla ice cream was rich and indulgent, perfect for a crisp autumn evening.
Despite the challenges of running a restaurant in 2020, Andrew, Claire and the team, have created a space that feels safe, yet every bit the cosy, laid back, neighbourhood hub that you would expect from a great Oxford independent.
Having had to close at the beginning of the lockdown, they took the opportunity to redesign the space, even removing the corridor to their events space The Boiler Room, to make more space in the large gallery to spread out tables, and create partitions between tables with a whole forest of indoor plants. The freshly painted walls, and new brighter bar area make JF feel light and airy, while implementation of an ordering app alongside the already friendly table service underlines the importance and safety of every customer.
So to the future. Whilst their autumn and winter calendar would normally be bursting with large parties and events, the team are focussing on intimate meals for small groups, and offering a place where we can all have a good time, with good food and relaxed tunes. They are bringing back the ever popular Moules Mercredi (£10 Moules Frites & a glass of wine!), live piano and tapas on Fridays, and creating one off events too including a Macmillan Coffee Morning this Friday from 10 – 11.30 am, and will be revealing their Christmas lunch menu for small teams and groups in the near future. Book on The Jam Factory website to get involved.
One of the events they are really sad not to be able to hold this year, is their Elders Lunch where they team up with Age UK to offer a free Christmas lunch for up to 150 elders with staff and locals volunteering their time, and suppliers donating produce to make it happen. They started the event 10 years ago to highlight loneliness at Christmas and wanted to make sure our elderly community could come and enjoy some company and a free meal for one afternoon every year. There’s a free raffle with some great prizes donated by local businesses. However, with innovation the name of the game, they are still planning to help Age UK to offer the lunch by teaming up with other local businesses and are asking restaurants to donate tables of up to six. This is a tough time for the hospitality industry but really hope to create something elders can look forward to this winter. If you are interested in your business being involved, get in touch with Claire.
Although the lockdown may not be easing any time soon, local Oxford indies like The Jam Factory can offer comfort, colour, and add some sparkle to groundhog days, and help us to navigate towards a brighter tomorrow.
Our indies need us, and we need them, whatever your budget every coffee, card, cake and cocktail makes a difference to both them, and us.
Stay safe and sparkly.