138 Boundary St West End, QLD 4101
It's Saturday lunchtime and the jamjar is packed. At least, it's lunchtime for us; everyone else seems to be eating breakfast still and discussing their night out.
Apart from a few bar seats inside, the dining space at the jamjar is all out the back in a covered courtyard with cement floors and walls of street art. Up-cycling is evident in booths made from old doors and bits of VJ walls, while a mirror in the bathroom is framed with a '70s-era TV casing.
The décor reflects the anything-goes West End crowd. The newly installed chef (and co-owner) is Damien Styles, formerly of Q'essence in Wilston and Charcoal Lane in Melbourne, and who was, in his more distant past, a Neil Perry apprentice. He may have only just moved in, but Styles has already stamped his personality on the food. Sardine fossils anyone?
Breakfast is served until 3, but it's possible to mix'n'match with the brunch and lunch menus. Sadly the beef ribs I coveted were a dinner item only, but their come-hither description flagged a future evening visit.
We began modestly with a selection of "smalls" ($10). Smartly presented on a wooden board, there is a polenta cube, crisp and golden on the outside, luscious and creamy inside, with a generous smear of goat's cheese puree and a swipe of an intriguing sticky beetroot caramel. A light yam fritter has a golden Japanese-style panko crumb and comes with a little bowl of cucumber and chilli sauce. A bitey Manchego cheese croquette is equally crisp and well-seasoned and comes with a silky chilli-tomato chutney. There's a single oyster too, served au naturel with a wedge of lime.
Appetite whetted, we move on, and while our waiter warns us it's small, we order the kingfish ($17) purely to find out what the "fossilised sardine" is. The plate comes as a petite portion of tiny pink salt-cured kingfish cubes, confetti shreds of nori and a dusting of in-house dried bonito flakes. The fossils are held vertical with a dab of mayo and are like a fishier, less artificial-tasting prawn cracker. Apparently, Styles makes a paste from the pureed sardines and dries it in a dehydrator then fries the result.
With its Japanese flavours, it would be perfect with a glass of sake — however, the Portal de Montsant Brunus Rosé from Spain, while probably not the ideal match, was quite lovely on a warm spring day and very well priced ($8.50 per glass). Like its food offerings, the jamjar's wine list is wallet-friendly, with most available by the glass, and there's a comprehensive selection of beer and eccentrically named cocktails.
From the "middles" section we decide on san choi bow ($17), here made here from minced duck cooked in masterstock and served with fine shreds of chilli, shallots and peanuts, and served, as is traditional, in a lettuce cup. The duck adds richness, the masterstock sweetness. It's well-sized, well-priced and a pretty good version of a classic. Other "middles" include a wagyu burger, which began to pass our table in increasing numbers, and a zataar-marinated chicken breast with grilled flat-bread. There are a couple of intriguing-sounding vegetarian dishes too, such as the dish of "toasted dark rye, pumpkin seeds, sunflower, sprouts and shoots, poached duck egg, vegetable flakes, parmesan crumbs" and an "ancient salad" with grains, beetroot and halloumi.
Pick of the day for us was a pan-fried ham hock terrine, studded with tiny al dente green lentils. It came away from the fork in smoky warm shreds; utterly, perfectly delicious. The accompanying sauce gribiche (egg, capers, pickles, mayonnaise) was out of balance though; it needed less mayo and more capers and pickles to provide the acid to cut through the richness of the terrine. The fried egg on top — while a classic complement for ham — might possibly be better-served poached or even omitted altogether.
It looked like we were the only ones contemplating dessert. "Molten chocolate pudding" ($16) sounded dangerously rich on such a warm day, but shared between two, seemed achievable. The pudding was textbook-perfect; runny inside and chocolaty but not sickly sweet. It was served with a luscious, almost mousse-like chocolate ganache, light chocolate-caramel shards and a dinky little glass of "toasted marshmallow" milkshake.
While it may look casual (more a sleepover-date breakfast than seduction-dinner venue perhaps?), the jamjar must be one of the few places in Brisbane you can get restaurant-quality food at café prices. Westenders should consider themselves damn lucky.