Federal Cafe, Basil Chambers, 9 Nicholas Croft, Manchester, M4 1EY – Visit Now
Manchester is awash with new eateries – and joining their swelling ranks is this little café on the edge of the Northern Quarter. Can it keep up with the competition?
Once upon a time, Manchester was derided for its eating habits. A city without a Michelin star to its name; a city where, apparently, the most pressing gastronomic question was whether to have chips with gravy or chips with curry sauce. And while Manchester still grapples with Michelin status, its eating scene has exploded, with new fine dining, casual and everything in between sucking up critical acclaim as greedily as a street dog with an unwanted bag of pork pieces. There is, it seems, no end to how much we all want to eat out – at any time of day or night.
Which brings me to the latest lunchtime option, Federal Café, a café sandwiched between the Northern Quarter and Shudehill that comes kitted out with brew bar, locally-made cakes and a reclaimed-looking interior that – possibly – channels a Hacienda vibe (stripped wood floors, water served in milk bottles and diner-style booths in yellow on black). It occupies a shop unit that has a chequered past; it has played host to more sandwich bars than I’ve had cold lunches. Part of the reason for its previous occupants’ failures must be location, with a busy road on one side and a busier tramway on the other. And yet the location should work; it’s next door to the Blue Pig, opposite Oklahoma and on the way to a tram stop that is never less than heaving.
But where previous incarnations never quite made themselves a destination, Federal Café does. There’s that interior for starters; it ticks all the vintage-shtick boxes. And both décor and menu find a balance between NQ hipster and ordinary punter. There are Portuguese natas (egg custard tarts) and cakes by the Manchester-based Silver Apples bakery by the till and, while you can buy bircher museli and “smashed avocado” for brekkie, you can also order a breakfast bagel (bacon, eggs, spinach, £7.50) or “eggs any way” (basically two eggs on toast, with relish, £4.50).
In a city fast becoming a gastro capital, everyone has got to be top of their game
It’s fine, filling stuff. And although prices err on the upper end of OK – a sourdough piled high halloumi, mushrooms and salad came in at £7.50 – the portions are decent. Even the cheaper sandwiches (£3.95 out, £5 in) are hefty little blighters. There are nice details, too, such as the truffled egg, parmesan and mushroom served not on the near obligatory ciabatta, but on on a brioche. Coffee is good and priced well, save for an Aeropress that comes in at £3.50, a bit steep given the fact that an Aeropress takes less time and faff than the café’s monster coffee machine. Service could also do with dialing it up a notch; trying to extract information about where those cakes were made, for example, felt like asking a teenager what they did at school today.
These are minor quibbles. The food is good, the place busy. The people behind Federal clearly want it to work, and understand what makes the Northern Quarter tick. But in a city fast becoming a gastro capital, and its hungry punters becoming more demanding (so much so that newbies like Hawksmoor are bringing staff up from London to train their northern counterparts), everyone, even the humble lunchtime café, has got to be top of their game. Especially if they want the best part of a fiver for a cup of coffee.
Services and FacilitiesFood and drink
AccessibilitySteps to entrance