Sunday at 2pm. Every table is full, waiters whirl through the packed restaurant wielding plates of pancakes and scrambled eggs. There's a Spanish version of a queue clustered round the bar. E and I aren't phased by the scene in front of us though: we had a reservation. Five minutes and not even a nod of acknowledgment from a waiter later, we started to lose confidence. And when we finally were acknowledged, we were informed that no we didn't have a reservation, because you can't book for brunch. All this despite Café Oliver's website taking reservations for the brunch time period, and E having the email confirmation to prove it.
Good start somewhat soured, we were eventually seated and handed the brunch menu. Like many other venues that serve brunch in Madrid, French-style Café Oliver follows the 'set formula' approach, which costs €25 for three 'courses': a selection of pastries, a choice of eggs and a main dish, with a juice, a choice of hot drink and, rather oddly, a bottle of Actimel. With Sunday brunch on offer there since 2002, it's the city's most famous place to have brunch. But would it live up to high expectations?
A waiter soon brought over two jugs of juice, one containing orange, and the other melon and watermelon. I chose a glass of the latter, which tasted homemade. We were also presented with our 'first course', a basket containing a croissant and a pain au chocolat, plus two bread rolls, some butter and jam. I passed on the rather average-looking bread but tried both the croissant and its chocolatey counterpart; both were flaky, buttery and decidedly tasty, unlike the sugary versions often served in Spain. I followed this with scrambled eggs with cheese, herbs and a few pieces of toasted baguette, while E opted for Eggs Benedict (also on offer was fried eggs with bacon). I'm not the world's biggest fan of all things egg, but Café Oliver's scrambled version was well-cooked: clearly freshly-made and neither runny nor dry. E's Eggs Benedict were appetizing enough, but not the best she's ever eaten: the sauce in Spain often isn't quite right, so I'm informed.
|Scrambled eggs with cheese and herbs|
For the 'main course', we had a choice of caesar salad, cheeseburger, pancakes with maple syrup and a 'tropical salad' of fresh fruit. We both opted for the pancakes, which were huge, fluffy and incredibly filling. A few berries to accompany them wouldn't have gone amiss, though.
|Pancakes with maple syrup|
Given the amount of food served for €25, brunch at Café Oliver is decent value if you want to go gluttonous and fill your stomach for the day. I'm more a fan of the pick n' mix approach, but with a wide range of choices within the set menu, Café Oliver's brunch recipe works. I can certainly understand why it's so popular, but given the less-than-tepid welcome we received and the booking confusion, I won't be rushing back too quickly. If you like a busy place with a bustling vibe and lots of food, brunch at Café Oliver is definitely worth a try, though.
Address: Calle Almirante 12, 28004 Madrid
Tel: 915 217 379
How to get there: Metro to Chueca (line 5) or Alonso Martinez (lines 4, 5 & 10)
Opening hours: daily from 1.30–4pm & 9pm–midnight. Brunch is served on Sunday afternoons. Despite what it says on the website, you can't book for brunch.
After round 3, Federal is still in the lead, with Cafe Oliver taking a respectable second over Maricastaña.
Where do you think serves the best brunch in Madrid? Where should I try next? If you have any suggestions, leave me a comment below or tweet me @katebritabroad and use the hashtag #BrunchChallenge.