For anyone who hasn’t been to or heard much about Jamaica, Jamtown probably looks like a hastily thrown together shack filled with a tokenistic collection of Caribbean souvenirs. For a Jamaican, it will feel like home. “It's really, beachy, shacky, just Jamaican. Everything as authentic as [it] can be,” says Jamtown’s co-owner, Matt Poyntz. He’s a Brit who missed Jamaican food after moving south. Chef Kieran Bailey, who is half-Jamaican, joins him in the business.
Poyntz says he wanted the bar-restaurant to feel like walking into any beachside Jamaican bar. “It's just shacks, like everyday garden sheds with a door and a window serving rum, beer, coconuts and home cooking. It’s family cooking; mums and dads, not chefs.” The latter is where Bailey comes in. While Poyntz, a builder by trade, constructed most of the venue, Bailey toiled to perfect a repertoire of Jamaican classics. “The room was ready about two months before we opened, but Kieran wasn't happy with the food yet, we needed to bring some things in from the UK. It's important for us to be very, very authentic,” Poyntz says.
The most crucial recipe was for the jerk rub, a slightly coarse and powerfully savoury Jamaican spice rub. “Jerk is very complicated, that was one of the things that took so long to get exactly right. Everything is weighed, it's very precise. To make a marinade takes about three hours,” says Poyntz. The duo is justifiably proud – it’s as good an iteration of jerk as we’ve ever had. The meat it coats is as smoky, juicy and as soft as you’d expect from an eight-hour smoke and four-hour roast using a banana-puree baste.
Jamaican food is not all jerk and rum, though. Curries are a big part of the cuisine. Jamtown serves two varieties: a lime-washed goat curry and a coconut-based vegetarian curry with okra, sweet potato and chocos, a pear-shaped gourd with a mild flavour and a fresh, cucumber-like snap. The bar has an impressive range of 25 different Jamaican rums. There’s a lot of flavour variance between them, so chat to the bar staff to get something you’ll like. “We bring a lot of our rums in from the UK ourselves. You can't buy them anywhere else,” Poyntz says.
Most tables, though, will be drinking Red Stripe, a Jamaican ginger beer or one of the cocktails. We try a Banana Colada: an icy banana-rum mash slopped into a half coconut shell, and a burnt-flamingo coloured Watermelon Cooler with fresh watermelon, rum, golden syrup and lime. If you have enough of them you’ll probably end up embroiled in a limbo competition, which being Trinidadian is actually one of the only non-Jamaican things in the bar. Don’t be embarrassed – there’s a free shot or bill discount if you can get low enough.
32 Belgrave Street, Manly
(02) 9976 5707
Tue to Sat 5pm–12am