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The Tale of Two Federal Cafés

There is this great coffee place in Barcelona called Federal Café. Well, in truth it is a breakfast place that also serves lunch and smoothies – so it is an eating/coffee place. If you want delicious coffee – and only coffee – in Barcelona, you should really go to Satan’s Corner, where you order at the window from the sidewalk and then drink your coffee elsewhere.

Anyway, back to Federal. Right off the bat, Federal Café got me very excited because it is run by Australians and the space is three floors – the third being a small, no-frills terrace – and they have green smoothies on the menu. And breakfast quinoa. And baked eggs with all kinds of fixings. And excellent coffee, including flat whites which are apparently becoming a thing, even in Spain.

There’s a nice big community table right on the main floor and all sorts of morning reading material – from El Pais to Wired (US edition!) – and the clientele is a mix: couples, small groups, and individuals with laptops.

Really, visiting Federal Café on carrer Parlament cemented that love feeling for Barcelona that I was (guiltily) harboring. Guilty because Madrid is Madrid is my home is Madrid.

And so, what luck to discover that the guys behind Barcelona’s Federal have opened a duplicate in Madrid. Arriving to the Madrid Federal Café on a rainy Sunday mid-morning was a happy occasion and the place was hopping.

Wooden and white, clean-line interior? ✓

International magazines? ✓

Big communal table surrounded by smaller tables; wide counters at the windows? ✓

More or less the same menu? ✓

But something was off. The staff seemed unprepared for the number of people walking through the door. And although they all seemed like very nice individuals, that unpreparedness made everything seem a bit hectic – so that the waiters and waitresses were rushing around like madmen – unable to see an arm raised in request or to make eye contact when delivering a dish.

And this hectic energy put me into a bit of a critical mood. It felt like the wait for menus was too long, and so was the wait to order and then to receive food. The people at the neighboring table looked uncomfortable and that made me uncomfortable and then I became annoyed at them (perfectly nice strangers!) for making me uncomfortable; and the parents across the room weren’t doing anything to stop their toddler from running in between tables scream-crying.

Although the menu promised to afford me a similar experience as in Barcelona, the food fell flat – with baked eggs that were over- and under-cooked at the very same time. If breakfast had been as delicious as I had anticipated, the bill would not have been worth batting an eye at. But, oh, I batted at it.

Maybe it was the rain. Maybe the rain drove more people than expected to try the newly opened café. Maybe the rain made the environment just a tad gloomy and heavy.

The thing is… if I had never been to Federal Café in Barcelona, I would not have had all these ill feelings towards this one in Madrid. In a café in Spain, it is not uncommon to wait for some time before a waiter takes your order and, sometimes – in all countries – the food does not live up to the menu or the restaurant’s interior design.

These two Federal Cafés are meant to be copies, however, and so it only makes sense to expect the very same quality in Madrid as in Barcelona.

More than likely, Madrid (i.e. , Madrid Federal Café) will find it’s way. So I will certainly give it another try. Who can resist the allure of international reading material, breakfast quinoa, and flat whites? But it might not be for a while, and my return will definitely have to coincide with a sunny day.

Sometimes the copies need just a bit more help than the originals.

Federal Café Barcelona: C/ Parlament 39

Federal Café Madrid: Pl. de las Comendadoras 9


Profile photo of Kerry Parke

An American living and working in Madrid, Spain, Kerry Parke enjoys getting lost at home and in remote locations alike. Writing, reading, eating, and breathing seem to take up much of her time -- oh, and traveling.

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