Monday, 15 April 2013

The Jam Factory, Hollybush Row

Anyone who arrives in Oxford for the first time by train must be unimpressed by the bleakness of Frideswide Square just outside the station. But it is enlivened by the Jam Factory, a splendid brick building where Cooper's Oxford Marmalade was originally produced. It's now made elsewhere, which is rather sad, as a delicious smell of boiling oranges must once have wafted over the city.
The inside, on the other hand, doesn't feel much like a factory. 'Light and airy' and 'relaxed and arty' are the descriptions that come to mind: white walls, assorted soft furnishings, plants, various sculptures and other artworks dotted about (including a fine collection of tea-cosies) make this a very comfortable place. As you might expect, they hold life drawing classes, poetry nights and other such bohemian activities here too.
If you're having a meal you can sit anywhere, although there's a slightly more formal restaurant area for those indulging in more than a drink or some tea and cake. This review will focus on food, although I can also recommend the selection of unusual Belgian beers, and I've yet to try what looks like a rather good breakfast menu (including Oxford marmalade, of course).
We turned up one weekday lunchtime and there were enough people already there, including a sizeable contingent of business-lunchers, to make us almost wish we'd booked. I suspect the set lunch offer (two courses for £10, three for £13) had something to do with this. Luckily there was a table left, although unsurprisingly we had to wait a little while for the food. In the meantime, the tap water with lemon and lime was a nice touch.

The set menu looked tempting but we went for simple, meaty dishes: steak frites for me (£7.95) and a burger (£9.50) for the Photographer. We were both impressed. The steak was tender and lean and tasted more expensive than it was (it came ready sliced, which always seems to be a good sign). Chips were crunchy and satisfying. The burger was also more than fine, and the bun was crisp without being tough to munch through.

For critical purposes it was necessary to try desserts. I had the 'Jam Factory millionaire's shortbread' (£5.95) which was slightly disappointing. It was a disc of caramel mousse perched on a biscuit base - see above - but the flavour of the mousse could have been stronger, while the biscuit crumbs were a little soggy. A chocolate brownie (£5.95, I think) was much better, as it was extremely gooey and rich. In fact, I probably would have been better off with a slice of normal millionaire's shortbread from the display of homemade cakes next to the bar. On another visit, a sticky date cake was excellent, the date-studded sponge being a nice foil for the sweet and smooth fudge icing. I should point out, though, that at least at lunchtime the desserts seem a bit expensive in proportion to the main courses.
I have had one or two more adventurous meals here, but sadly not while in blogging mode, and in any case I feel this gives a sense of what the Jam Factory is like. It's clearly an independent and original establishment, serving - mostly - well priced and tasty fare.

The Jam Factory
27 Park End Street 

01865 244613


The Jam Factory on Urbanspoon

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