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Jam Street Cafe

Jonathan Schofield makes a choice about a lack of choice on a tumble-down parade in Whalley Range

Written by . Published on July 7th 2008.

Jam Street Cafe

Jam Street Cafe can work a treat if you’re in the mood. It lies in the same parade of old shops as two other notable south Manchester venues. The first of these is Palmiro, an odd but usually excellent Italian restaurant, and the second is Hilary Step, a real ale and proper lager bar, with good whiskies.

Meanwhile Jam Street Cafe is all happy haphazardness. One of those places thrown together with the design sense of blind man trying to control a live congar eel badly wrapped in a paint saturated cloth.

Together these three make up the most deliberately kooky collection of near-neighbour catering establishments in the city. Palmiro revels (and occasionally suffers) from its absurdly yet wonderfully unstinting Modernist interior and exterior: with a menu to match.

Hilary Step has had to jump through ridiculous licensing regulations which means it can’t allow kids inside and no-one can drink in the handsome rear garden because of a nearby family who find their religion at odds with the consumption of alcohol. Meanwhile the owner to make the interior space bigger thought it a clever idea to get rid of the stairwell. This means he can only access the two floors above by trap-door and ladder, rendering them largely useless.

Meanwhile Jam Street Cafe is all happy haphazardness. One of those places thrown together with the design sense of blind man trying to control a live congar eel badly wrapped in a paint saturated cloth. It’s a mess to look at with tough no-nonsense second-hand tables and chairs.

You suspect that the clientele of all three venues shoot on sight anybody who brings in the Telegraph or the Mail, or at least, because shooting is a bit militaristic, gives them a severe shake of the head. Many of the customers are clearly ladies who keep cats, and work in publically funded positions to do with equal opportunities.

It’s all very lovely, unthreatening and easy-going, as long as you like it scruffy and charmingly homemade. These venues are the diametric opposite of the slick dreariness of all those new places in Spinningfields. Sometimes the lack of corporate polish can be just what the doctor ordered.

It also comes as a relief to find that there's hardly any choice when it comes to dining. There are a few starters and nibbles written on a board, otherwise you get a home-printed A5 sheet of paper with two mains, meat and veg, and one dessert. The menu changes at the whim of the kitchen which closes at 9pm or whenever they run out of food.

This atitude might be amusing but also makes sense. If a simple menu delivers competent food which matches or exceeds the level you'd expect for the price, then wonderful.

On the last visit most of us went for the braised shoulder of lamb (£9.95), a glorious big plate of a thing. The flesh was slow cooked and consquently lush and yielding. The dish had been prepared with herbs and a liberal dousing of house red. The distanct tang of the former and the richness of the latter offered the tastebuds extra variety. In fact our little baa-baa tasted as if it had broken into Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's kitchen garden, gorged itself and then gone on a wine tour of the Loire, before offering itself up as perfect for slaughter.

The lamb was sat on potatoes roasted with rosemary and came with butternut squash, spinach and gravy. There was not a single thing wrong with any of these elements and much that was very right. The addition of the squash was inspired and together with the potato and spinach enhanced the feeling of sturdiness. This was a proper meal in a proper British tradition that stretches back centuries.

The roasted vegetable strudel (£8.50) wasn't quite as good a dish as the lamb. It worked well enough in terms of scale with a crumbly filo pastry opening onto peppers, basil, courgettes. The tomato sauce ladled over it was a sharp number while the roast spuds and a green leaf salad bolstered the range of flavours. Still, while it was hefty and filling, it also lacked any sort of finesse.

To finish we all tucked into the Belgian waffles with ice cream (£2.75) - and we all enjoyed them. The waffles had the right mix of brittle exterior and soft warm interior, and the vanilla ice cream was tight in consistency and taste – next time I'll find out who supplied it and hope it wasn't Mr Whippy. We drank Leffe beers although there is a small wine list available. Given the venue beer seemed right.

Jam Street is a good neighbourhood outlet. It's got a fine roadside drinking area to supplement the ground-floor dining room, as well as a clubby little bar in the basement. It's even got some eye-popping graffiti in the gents – toilets are the low point, literally, at Jam Street Cafe.

The food can be very good. Naturally, given the limited choice, it's a bit hit or miss, but if you find yourself faced with a dish like our lamb then it's hard to do anything other than enjoy the whole kooky experience. Stop in if you're passing, or maybe come down on a Thursday say, and give all three of the quirky venues a whirl.

Rating: 14.5/20
Breakdown: 7.5/10 Food
3.5/5 Service
3.5/5 Ambience
Address: Jam Street Cafe
209 Upper Chorlton Road
Whalley Range
M1 1JF
0161 881 9944

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18 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

francoJuly 7th 2008.

As a long time fan and regular customer of Jam street I have two points to make1. I too was beginning to fall out of love with the place, the service was starting to slip etc as mentioned above, but after a few recent visits I am delighted to report that things at Jam Street seem to be on the up of late and getting back to what we knew and loved a couple of years ago. I went to a GREAT cuba night there a few weeks ago and breakfast service seems to have improved no end. I think they had some problems with some of the regular staff moving on but they now seem to have been replaced with good new faces.2. I do take exception to the "Many of the customers are clearly ladies who keep cats, and work in publically funded positions to do with equal opportunities" comment, this is a place that is populated by a friendly mix of people from all walks of life and this works so well because of it's un-pretentious and friendly atmosphere. That comment was a cheap generalisation and does not do justice to this genuinely eclectic, independant and friendly cafe.

MatJuly 7th 2008.

So let me get this straight. Someone called Poppy is deriding people for calling their children 'Leaf' and 'Sky'. Did I read that right?

AnonymousJuly 7th 2008.

Been numerous times for brekkie and it started off great and slowly got more hit and miss with a recent 45 min wait on a Friday morning/lunch for a breakfast that when it did arrive was not what was ordered and that was with only six other punters in.Pull your finger out

PoppyJuly 7th 2008.

Rude, rude staff. Over priced and full of Chorltonites with kids without any shoes on called 'leaf' and 'sky' All they want is a Macdonalds happy meal, instead they get given a potato smoothie and left to play by Upper Chorlton Rd while their parents drink beer which tastes of perfume

old whalley ranger...July 7th 2008.

I took some friends here once, some vegies some meaties, and we were all shocked at the limited menu at first, but it does work and we all had a great evening.Bar area downstairs does smell a bit too much like the toilets though.

Les BryanJuly 7th 2008.

Honestly come on. That thing about the cats was funny but probably applies more to the Hillary Step. Actually you do have to wonder how many lesbians work in town halls or social services...it's like there's some weird employment scheme going on.

Noel EdmondsJuly 7th 2008.

I like Jam Street and have always found the staff to be pleasant and polite (except for the clown who wears a bandana round his wrist). The food and drink is usually of a high standard too. The regulars are a pretty mixed bunch though, ranging from a middle-east obsessed lunatic to an interfering busy body who looks like a satan-worshipping paedophile.

rosieJuly 7th 2008.

I like the idea of Jam Street and and th elimited menu is a good idea. Going there just for a drink isn't always a good idea. We bought 3 (not particularly cheap) 'gin and tonics' there a couple of weeks ago. They were awful and turned out to be gin and flat low cal soda. The guy was really rude when we complained.

Jam StreetJuly 7th 2008.

As owner of Jam street I am happy to receice customer feedback and will always act on it. I am very concerned that customers are being treated rudely and being given cold food! If you have had a bad experince at Jam Street please will you also contact me directly so that I can sort it out. MUCH appreciated. gaea.catterall@hotmail.co.uk

CarlJuly 7th 2008.

I too am a little dissapointed in the comment "Many of the customers are clearly ladies who keep cats" I have always found Jam St to be one of the most unpretentious, mixed and fun little bars in South Manchester. Love the place!

AnonJuly 7th 2008.

The first time i went to Jam Street it was a big hit. Subsequent visits have been less than impressive though - the worst resulting in a 90minute wait for 3 people to be served a breakfast - busy or not it isn't difficult to cook numerous breakfasts for hungry, hung-over people on a weekend!

Jam StreetJuly 7th 2008.

As owner of Jam street I am happy to receice customer feedback and will always act on it. I am very concerned that customers are being treated rudely and being given cold food! If you have had a bad experince at Jam Street please will you also contact me directly so that I can sort it out. MUCH appreciated. gaea.catterall@hotmail.co.uk

Moo mooJuly 7th 2008.

I thought Jam Street Cafe was the biz when I was first introduced to it several months ago. Over numerous visits I enjoyed good food and surprisingly good wine for the price even if the wait and the service was sometimes as quirky as the decor. But that's all in the nature of the place and an idea which I think has got legs. The down side is that, after not visiting for a while, my last couple of visits have been disappointing. New wine list which can't possibly have been tasted by anyone before offering it up, service which was more dire than quirky and food which was cold and sounded much better than it tasted. I am thinking - new management?? Do hope it can get it back together, I used to look forward to going.

MarloweJuly 7th 2008.

I love Jam Street - I eat and drink here regularly and am never disappointed. The meals in the evening are particularly delicious, you can see a lot of thought goes into them. Great atmos too.

LBJuly 7th 2008.

Definitely hit-and-miss. Waiting over an hour for a fry-up, then receiving it cold, was quite a disappointment. And the staff didn't even attempt to pretend they cared. Shame.

AnonymousJuly 7th 2008.

Food has always been good when I have been in especially considering the price you pay. There is more on the menu at Breakfats/Lunch although the service can be a bit hit and miss at this time due to the amount of people there. So if you want a leisurely breakfast on a Sunday it is ideal if you need a quick grease fix for your hangover then I would try elsewhere.

Noel14186February 23rd 2010.

What's happened to this place? I mean, it was never perfect but that was part of it's charm. The 2, or latterly 3, choices on the menu was spot on. Perhaps a little limiting but it worked well, particularly when the food was so fresh and tasty. The fact they changed every 2 or 3 days was great; my family used to get quite excited about getting to see what was available. It enabled the food to be seasonal and locally sourced and, especially with the fish dishes, could be based on what came in off the boat that day. Now, they've ditched that idea and have some crappy blackboard, filled with bland and uninspired dishes that will apparently remain on the menu for the next few months. Forgetting for the moment that all the accompaniments seem to be pretty much identical for every dish - winter greens, goats cheese and maple syrup- the whole menu looks so uninspired. Has the friendly scruffy chef left? On the few occasions that I spoke to him he seemed really keen on sourcing decent, fresh/ organic/ free range products and had a real passion for food. I don't believe that this is the same man who has come up with 'posh fish and chips'. (BTW, who actually uses the word 'posh', apart from children and idiots?)
My family used to love eating here but we will just be popping in for a pint from now on, I'm afraid.

AnonymousAugust 14th 2010.

Waited 20 minutes - half my lunch break for a soup, went in to ask how long - they didn't even have my order and said "It'll be 20 minutes"
Intrigued by the "interfering busy body" - not the fellow with a mustache like the Mad Twatter in Skins, who wears different hats all the time?

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