Average main course price: R105
Parking: Street parking – or parking under and behind the 27 Boxes in the next block
Best for: Fun diner food that’s easy on the conscience
Star ratings: Food 4, service 4, ambience 4
Chef James Diack lives very close to The Federal, his third restaurant and has long wanted to see a mighty fine diner on 7th Street Melville. Much like Diack’s Coobs and The National, this is fun food without the guilt. Here, chef Wayne Diedtrich runs the kitchen, and every ingredient in it is super-responsibly sourced, mostly from the Diack family’s own famous farm – and then used to create all the elements of the dishes from scratch here, or in The National’s bigger kitchen. That’s every sausage and every hot dog roll too: every bit of naughtiness is really nice.
Think favourite diner and New York deli delights: hotdogs, fried chicken, meatloaf, burgers, brisket, waffles and pumpkin pie. They’re all here – nicely notched up in quality.
The hotdogs and the hamburgers have their own, homemade brioche rolls – “because people leave tasteless buns behind.” The best is that the hotdog sausages are homemade from farm-reared, acorn-fed pigs. They taste sublime. The chips are winners too, as are the beer-battered onion rings. The New York is a classic but there’s also an Asian one and Dog of the Day!
Hamburgers are special too, with homemade buns housing grass-fed beef patties and all the trimmings or buttermilk-crumbed farm chicken. There’s also a generous falafel burger with juicy trimmings for the vegetarians. Burgers and dogs are designed for afternoon and early evening eating, while starters and main meals are good for dinners and more formal lunches.
The starters also serve as delicious snacks. There is a fine selection of eats featuring all the trendy flavours, like chicken pops with hot, fresh salted caramel popcorn and homemade BBQ mustard dip. There’s a thick and delicious tomato soup in a little bucket, served with a small mac’n’cheese sarmie. On the more grown-up taste end, an exceedingly good duck rilette comes with homemade seed squares with the Federal’s own piccalilli.
On the mains side, the Southern fried chicken is already receiving praise. The real highlight though is the meatloaf: thick ground-lamb slices moistened with the jus and served with a smooth dollop of smoky cauliflower and grilled pancetta. Wild boar meatballs with homemade spaghetti will spoil you for other meatballs forever. Don’t forget the all-day breakfast pile of waffles.
It’s a welcome relief to think that the salads on the menu are not just fresh but completely organic, pure and all of the un-boring sort.
Desserts are also meant to be amusing and are toppling with taste and lavish extras. A sundae composed of dulce de leche cheesecake elements has fellow diners making friends, bringing spoons. Also, don’t forget the pumpkin pie.
Maybe you were thinking milkshakes and soda ices? You were right but wait a bit – they’re being composed with good-for-us ingredients and aren’t quite ready yet, but where there’s James Diack, there’s a way.
In the mean time, no-one is turning up their noses at The Federal’s neat and clever selection of craft beers on tap. Else try one of the masterful cocktails like the Old Fashioned cocktail of bourbon and angostura. Diack is known to serve good wines and this restaurant has a small palate-tested list of about a dozen average-priced reds and whites – half of which can be had by the glass. There are three good South African MCCs too and be assured that all three go well with this diner food.
There’s a lot of it. Service people are genial, check-shirted guys who seem to be having fun. It starts at the door and even the bill process is a cool act. Drinks flow well too, with advice and remarks swopped. The casting agencies are all over Melville and these guys could play excellent NY deli or diner waiters, if they don’t already.
The Federal’s look is contemporary retro – think girls on roller skates and apple greens with ripe reds. The restaurant stretches across two rooms and there’s also an open mezzanine floor. The crowd are a local set of young business people: it’s easy to imagine they’re all actors, directors or perhaps lawyers. The music is considered and someone’s also worked out music level to conversation ratios rather well. All-in-all there’s a good buzz.
Seventh Street, Melville has never been renowned for lunch time trade but it seems as though things have changed since The Federal hit town.
Eat Out critics dine unannounced and pay their own way. Read our full editorial policy here.