Java & Jazz At The Heart Of Forest Row
by Hanna Lindon
Fabulous food, friendly staff and a famously warm welcome combine to make Java and Jazz one of Forest Row’s greatest community assets. Hanna Lindon profiles this legendary local restaurant.
Walking into Java and Jazz, I can already feel my mouth begin to water. The air smells of rich coffee and sugar with a faint background aroma of seriously good pizza. It’s 2pm, the tail-end of the lunchtime shift, but diners are still lingering over colourful salads and smoothies in the cosy downstairs café. Homemade cakes sit temptingly on a rustic sideboard and melodic jazz plays beneath the buzz of conversation. It feels warm, homely and welcoming – the kind of place that everybody would like to have as their local.
Since it opened in the 1990s, Java and Jazz has built a reputation for melt-in-the-mouth food and superb service. Its cult following includes celebrities such as Ronnie Wood, Stephen Dillane (who Game of Thrones fans will know best as Stannis Baratheon) and comedian Ben Elton. It consistently tops the TripAdvisor list of best eateries in the area – reviews are numerous and almost unanimously glowing. So what’s the secret of the restaurant’s success?
“It’s our strong links with the local community that makes us special,” explains John Gallagher, who bought Java and Jazz with his wife Anne in 2015. “We provide a platform for local kids who want to take their first step on the career ladder – somewhere that they can work and have fun at the same time. Our food has solid local links as well. The coffee recipe was designed by somebody who used to have a roastery here, the pasta comes from Sevenoaks and the chocolate brownies are made in-house. The restaurant has strong local roots and a real community feel.”
John and Anne were passionate about Java and Jazz long before they took the helm. Forest Row locals themselves, they were loyal long-term customers and admirers of the restaurant’s community-minded ethos. Even so, it came as a surprise when previous owner Maggie Johnson announced that she was looking to retire and singled them out to carry on the business in the same vein.
“Initially I said no,” John confesses, “but after three months of free coffees and a lot of conversations with the staff who have been here a long time and know the business, I changed my mind.”
The camaraderie between John, managers Jozef, Sasah, Elmo and the rest of the team is partly what gives Java and Jazz its famously warm atmosphere. They have all been here over 5 years, creating a home-from-home for regular customers by remembering their likes and dislikes and making a mean coffee into the bargain. Talents and experience of Maggie are still in use to both supporting John and Anne and helping the restaurant maintain its high standards. Supporting them is a backing group of bright young things at the start of their careers, many of them from local schools Michael Hall and Sackville. In fact, John’s passion for employing and training young people is take over the restaurant in the first place.
“I love the fact that for most staff it’s their first job after school or college,” he says. “It’s a phenomenal stepping stone for the local kids. Many of them like working here so much that they come back to us in their university holidays.”
John is a keen supporter of local community initiatives, sponsoring both the Forest Row under 11’s football team and the village’s Frow Show comedy troupe and the Forest Row Festival. Under his aegis, Java and Jazz has placed itself still more firmly at the heart of the community by hosting charity evenings for local good causes.
The community ethos makes Java and Jazz a local gem, but it’s the taste bud-tantalising menu that draws foodies from further afield. Delicious pizzas with dairy-free bases and creative toppings are the restaurant’s speciality, but its healthy salads and decadent desserts also have a loyal fan base. The staff all have their favourite dishes. For Luke it’s the Venice pizza served with bacon, gorgonzola, peppers, onions, olives and mushrooms; for John the meat lasagne or the Java and Jazz salad with chicken breast, bacon, avocado, roasted peppers and croutons. Food is served from 8.30am all the way up to 10 or 10.30pm, with a takeaway option available as well.
Towards the end of my visit, John takes me on a tour of the restaurant. It’s surprisingly spacious and flexible – stairs lead up from the cosy, living room-style café to a beautifully decorated formal dining floor and on to a charming loft restaurant. The whole effect is bright, welcoming and effortlessly chic, the result of a collaboration with lauded local designer Sally-Anne Kent.
My favourite part, though, has to be the gelato parlour. Tucked away behind an outdoor eating space, where diners can relax and watch the world go by during the summer months, it’s one of the area’s best-kept secrets. Forget flavourless, commercially-produced ice cream – this is the real thing. Dense, creamy and exploding with flavour, It’s made in Turin with milk from the makers’ own cows. John gave me a toffee cone to take away and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since. There are many reasons to go back to Java and Jazz – the new coffee club that will meet every month to sample different brews, the warm welcome, the fantastic pizza – but for me, it’s the incredible gelato that seals the deal.
JAVA AND JAZZ
Address: The Square, Lewes Road, Forest Row, East Sussex, RH18 5ES
Telephone: 01342 826699