Lucy Tomlinson visits the laid-back brunch spot’s new Deansgate outpost
I love Manchester in the sun. There is something so topsy-turvy about sun-baked pavements, people strolling around in T-shirts and sundresses and a general Balearic vibe that borders on psychedelic, like something out of a Jeff Noon novel. I’m sure by the time this gets published we will all be sheltering miserably from the rain again, normal service resumed. But it was nice while it lasted.
Avocado and corn let you convince yourself that you’re being healthy, but cheese and bacon let you know the dark truth
If you are looking to inject a bit of sunshine into your life, food-wise at least, you could do worse than popping into the new branch of Federal on Deansgate. Their semi-official tagline is “Antipodean bunch masters” which, if a little grandiose, is at least to the point.
They do indeed do a lovely line in breakfasts and brunches all inspired by Australian and New Zealand coffee shops. Which makes it all the more surprising that that the owner is actually Portuguese (though that does explain why they always sell scrummy Pastel de Natas on the counter). Still there a plenty of Antipodean touches, from the posters on the wall to the packets of Tim Tams on sale.
The original Federal, in the Northern Quarter, has become a firm favourite with brunch-loving creative types, but will this particular brand of laidback, wholesome fare translate to the more business-minded Deansgate?
The short answer is yes. Each time I visit for this review (a grand total of three times - see, I’m dedicated) I only just manage to squeeze into the last available seat. There are more covers here than in the original branch, but it still retains that snug feeling of the original and the closeness of the other customers means it’s ripe for eavesdropping.
Hot topics include the ruthlessness of the Manchester interior design industry, which honestly sounds like rich pickings for a reality TV show, and, my personal favourite, some very go-getting business types opening up about how hard it is emotionally to drop their little ones off at nursery. My heart melted. What more could you want from a brunch stop?
….Oh yes, that’s right, food. Well, on my first visit I was persuaded by a very friendly waitress that the ‘shrooms and halloumi (£8) was the ‘best breakfast thing on the menu’. Considering pretty much everything on the menu could be considered ‘breakfast’ this was a strong claim.
Without trying everything on offer (give me time) I can’t confirm or deny this assertion, but it was indeed very satisfying, with meaty Portobello mushrooms layered with thick wedges of well-browned halloumi, flecked with various seeds and served on the ubiquitous sourdough. There was a pronounced aniseed taste from the fennel seeds, which may not to be everyone’s taste (but was to mine), and ‘Fed’ spiced tomato sauce which was a very piquant blend of tangy, sweet and spicy with the slightly synthetic undertones that make the perfect hangover cure.
In a bid to eat my way properly round the menu I returned the next morning to try the Cheddar corn fritters (£11.50 with bacon, £9.50 without) – but horror of horrors they are not available until after 12pm. I settled instead for Emily’s banana bread (£4), which was a good hunk of chocolatey banana-y goodness served with a creamy dash of vanilla-flavoured marscarpone, though I’m afraid it comes in second to my all-time favourite banana bread from All The Shapes.
I returned later on for the fabled corn fitters (if the staff thought I was some kind of food stalker they were much too polite to say so). They were exactly the satisfying heap of savoury I hoped they’d be. The avocado and corn let you convince yourself that you are being healthy, but the Cheddar cheese and bacon let you know the dark truth: you’re a salty monster and you love it. My only request would be for ultra-crispy bacon next time.
It’s always interesting to see what happens when a thriving independent opens a second branch. Near neighbours Home Sweet Home for instance, started off with a quirky cute branch in the Northern Quarter but its second branch, just over the road in the Great Northern, was a much more commercialised and slick operation. Federal seems to have been able to clone itself almost perfectly – the menu, the coffee, the friendly staff, the gentle hipness – it’s all here. The Deansgate clientele, presumably shoppers and workers from Spinningfields, seem to love this little slice of the NQ. I guess the only question is where to open the third branch.
Federal Café Bar, 194 Deansgate Tel: 0161 833 0890
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Shrooms 8, banana bread 7, corn fritters 8
Friendly and enthusiastic
Retains that snug feeling of the original