Jam Jar (West End)
Every nation has its shitty roadhouse food, and South Africa is no exception. Their iconic ‘Russian’ sausages are thick, greasy pipes of pinkish-grey processed meat that are traditionally deep-fried at about 8am every day and then left to lounge in puddles of their own grease in sad steel trays, awaiting passing truckers in small-town cafés. Like a dugong that has had an unfortunate encounter with a speedboat, the Russian is sliced at regular intervals, and smells faintly of decay. It’s a battle to find an image of this dish, possibly because of its habitat in cultural backwaters, but this might give you a sense:
Having seen a few Russians on the road when I passed through Johannesburg, I bade them a silent farewell as I flew out and never expected to relive the experience. I’d learnt to avoid dagwood dogs, after all.
Fast forward to this morning at Jam Jar at West End, surrounded by dudes in tragically-ruffled fringes and indie art. I order a tasty-sounding thing with chorizo BUT OH WAIT WHEN IT ARRIVES I’M BACK IN SOUTH AFRICA AND THE ROADSIDE HORROR RUSHES BACK TO ME. Abrupt as a burst of kalashnikov fire, my morning is confronted by Russian 2.0. It nestles, greasy as elvis, atop ciabatta, asparagus and buffalo feta. It hints at deliciousness. It tastes like… cheap pork boiled in fat. Surely if this was a chorizo, it was the most lowbrow of chorizos in the land, so much so that I expected it to belch beer and perhaps pinch our hipster waitress on her spraytanned arse. The rest of the dish worked OK but fell well short of being exciting.
Similarly, my dear, sweet girlfriend’s reaction to the food plated before her set new records in brutally succint food assessment. A short stare, then: ‘what is that yellow shit?’.
Apparently this summed up her morning dining experience, with the lurid yellow relish (which appeared to be mostly pickled cauliflower) providing perfect company to the under-seasoned mushroom and beetroot-coloured ‘balsamic reduction’. The haloumi was declared the one redeeming feature of this dish; they ‘even fucked up the spinach’. Ouch. Perhaps we went for the wrong menu item: one of their breakfast dishes is a giant, revved-up bloody mary with cherry tomatoes and basil. A bit of toast on the side and I’d surely have been sold, but nevertheless I found myself respecting such a ballsy breakfast offering even as I passed it over.
It’s perhaps a bit unfair to savage a venue when looking at only its weaker side, and it must be admitted that Jam Jar is not primarily pitched as a breakfast venue. Their ‘food, drink, think’ motto is cute and reflects their focus on showcasing local art, providing remarkable dining experiences and good booze. Having encountered a deeply unremarkable breakfast, I resolved to give other options a go. The cocktail menu looked promising and the semi-covered outdoor space is pleasant in spring and excitingly festooned with local pop art (mostly just uninspiring, Frankie-magazine-esque doodles, but pleasant in its ubiquity anyway). I arrived to their shiny-new menu of drink, freshly thought up by the formidable-but-friendly barman. Round one was the ‘Keith Richards’, and from first sip I realised I was going to far prefer the drinking experience that Jam Jar offers to the food. It went like this:
The ‘Keith Richards’ is a masterful twist on the standard Margarita. It is Monaco compared to Mexico. Bit of sweet, bit of sour, hella kick – and a hint of aniseed into the bargain. Using the milk of young coconuts is a cunning move, and gives the finish a certain smoothness. The Mistress didn’t share my amazement, but after a few tasty Holgate brews, decent tapas and an absinthe-based ‘Green Donkey’ I was sure I’d figured the niche that Jam Jar belongs in: good early-evening boozing. Bypass the breakfast but treat this as a solid spot for relaxed summer drinking and good company.