Spain has become the gastronomy capital of Europe in recent years, due to innovative chefs and artisans like Ferran and Albert Adria, Jordi Roca and his brother Joan and Josep, and the late Santi Santamaria (who died while in Singapore, RIP). Steeped in traditional, but not tied down by them you have the best traditionalists like Santi, and avant garde like Ferran Adria. You come to Spain to eat, and eat well.
El Nacional represents an innovative concept that features 4 areas, 4 bars and a thousand ways to feed the soul. Four distinct areas – A meat restaurant (La Braseria), a fish restaurant (La Llotja), a tapas and rice restaurant (La Taperia) and a fast deli restaurant (La Parada), as well as 4 bars specialised in: beer, wine, cava and cocktails.
Each section has its own unique characteristics, creating the atmosphere that there are different experiences to be had within the same restaurant.
A fast deli restaurant where you can enjoy sandwiches, coca pastries and light meals among many other options. La Parada offers a varied menu: sweet and savoury pastries, cheese, vegetables, smoked and cured products. You will also find classic sandwiches here, as well as a variety of salads, sliced fruit, natural juices, milkshakes, pastries, artisanal ice cream, drinks and coffee.
La Tapería offers a great variety of cold tapas, hot tapas, rice dishes, paella fideuá, more of this place later.
A distinctive feature of La Llotja is the fish market display counter where one can choose their product and purchase it by weight. The fish can be prepared using 5 different cooking methods: in the oven, charcoal-grilled, steamed, fried or on the griddle.
The main ingredient at La Llotja is quality fish that is particularly fresh. Also available are fried foods, salads, vegetables, fish soups, shellfish, stews…and a few basic meat dishes for those who prefer not to eat fish on that particular day. But if you don’t want seafood, you might as well go to the next restaurant…
The selection was not as varied as La Paradeta @ Barcelona, so I can hopefully assumed that the techniques and quality will be better here. Try next time and tell you, how I wished I have 4 stomachs like a cow!
The glass cabinet for meat ageing is a special feature of La Braseria, which specialised in meats. They serve a large selection of starters and meat, to have with salad or vegetable side dishes. The star of the show is the charcoal grill, although there is also a wood-fired oven and a griddle. All of the meat is cooked on the spot, in front of the customers.
Wine and Preserves Bars
I started my exploration of the place with a quick visit to the wine and preserves bar. One of the delicacies that was exported from Spain was canned food. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Spain canned food industry was a sought-after delicacies around the continent. These days, it represents the finest and freshest preserves bar none.
I skipped breakfast for this visit to El Nacional. I started, liked all Spaniards, with a breakfast Cava. Cava Juvé y Camps Rva. de la Familia, a dry sparkling wine that would complement best with the briny morsels of goodness I was about to partake. At 3€ a glass, who can blame you.
I ordered a selection – Surtido de latas de marisco, berberechos, mejillones y almeja fina blanca / Selection of seafood preserves, cockles, mussels and white clam – which consisted of :
- Mejillones en escabeche / Mussels in pickled sauce – I liked this the most of the three. The mussels were plump and the canning process had not dried out the meat.
- Berberechos / Cockles – the least favourite of the three, was expecting Si Hum (blood cockles), but these are more like baby clams.
- Almeja fina blanca / White clam – Tasted like the Bao Bei that we had during CNY, but smaller. I guessed if I used this as a salad ingredient, it would be better.
They had other cold tapas that you may order from the chiller display, ranging from skewers of chilli and olives, sardines and anchovies in olive oil and vinegar, seafood salad, etc. On to the next one.
La Taperia serves a selection of tapas from the Iberian peninsula, made from local and regional ingredients made a la carte. It is a dynamic and vibrant eating place, where the waiters auction off paella “Malaga-style” and announce the arrival of each tapas with gustos.
Chistorra Artesana a la Sidra / Traditional Chiostorra (Thin Chorizo) simmered in cider – This was like Chinese lap cheong, except it was not waxy. It was very heavy and you could not eat it alone. Luckily it was simmered in cider vinegar, the acidity took some of the salt and heaviness away. Still you need bread to eat this.
Each was two-bites sized, it would have been perfect if they were one-bite each. Just details.
Pan de Doble Fermentación / Double Fermented Bread – While most places gave the bread for free with your tapas, you have to folk out 2€ for the sourdough. Despite the fancy name, it was sourdough, although it was good sourdough freshly made.
You really need to order this because you would need the bread to soak up the wonderful sauces that came with the chorizo and the pork cheek that was coming up. In fact, bread is so essential in tapas it was a crime to charge for it.
Carrilleras de Cerdo / Pork Cheeks Stew – if you walked around Mercat de Boqueria, you would see butchers displaying the whole pig’s face in their chillers. They were not there to thrill the tourists, the Spaniards do eat these (so do the Chinese, French, Italian, and all the other people that know their food), so quit your squeamish, my American friends.
The pork cheek, I guaranteed you, when cooked right would be the softest, tastiest part of the pig that you would fall in love with. Not the belly – too oily, not the chops – too blah, organs – too high in cholesterol, the cheek remained my favourite part. It is usually stewed, and in this case, in heavy red wine sauce based that was made into the gravy that was poured on cubed patatas. This could be a meal on its own with the pan (bread).
Bomba de la Barceloneta / Barceloneta Bomb – there’s a little history behind this tapas classic, and you need to get slightly familiar with modern Spanish history, particularly with the Second Republic, The Civil War and the dictator Francisco Franco.
Maria Pla was the woman behind this fascinating bite from Catalan history. At the time when she had the idea to create The Bomba at their family restaurant Cova Fumada, the Civil War was in full swing. She combined the croquette with the brava and aioli sauces, which were traditional red, spicy and white, tangy sauces to represent the anarchist’s weapon of choice, a rounded iron ball which was filled with explosives and lit by a string fuse.
She shaped the croquette into this rounded ball and in the centre she stuffed it with minced sausage meat (the explosives). When the croquette was cooked, it was then smothered with the signature Brava & Aioli sauces. So you have two tapas, sausage-filled croquette and aioli, and Patatas Brava all rolled in one, literally.
I find their Bomba just OK, because the brava sauce was not spicy and to tomato-ey. Also, I was expecting homemade aioli, not the Heinz mayonnaise out of a bottle. Trust me, you can taste the difference between churned and machine made aioli.
Every 30 mins or so, they will start a Paella Auction. A waiter will carry 5 tapas-servings of paella, and you have to quickly ask for one before another table took it. Each time a different paella will be served, and you would not know which paella will be served beforehand. Very interesting concept, instead of pre-cooking pans of paella which reduced the grains to mushy porridge, everyone gets served with fresh and tasty, al dente paella all the time.
This idea is great if you have a whole afternoon to spend in the place, and if you are travelling alone and just want a tapas sized paella. However, not having a timetable and choices also meant that you would be disappointed most of the time. Especially if the place was not crowded, they would most likely not be holding any auction. I was there when it opened for lunch, I have to want for another hour before the first auction started, and that was want the place started to fill up.
Arroz de Marisco / Seafood Rice – the one we got was a seafood paella. The rice was al dente, the sauce was very rich and tasty, overall it was a great paella and just enough for one person. I was disappointed I did not get the noodles, you can get good paella these days from a lot of places, but Spanish pan noodles remain a delicacy found rarely outside of Spain.
Lots of History
The establishment is located on Passeig de Gràcia and has a surface area of 2,600 m2 with a capacity for more than 700 diners. A place full of history, it has borne witness to Barcelona’s industrial revolution since it was built in 1889. Initially, it housed a café-theatre, a fabric dye factory, a car dealer’s shop before the Civil War……and finally a garage.
Large windows and metal pillars give the place a unique charm that is very art deco. If you dig this kind of architecture, you will have to come and see it for yourself. Otherwise, just come for the food. Mark it down and make a detour when you come over to see the Gaudi opposite this place on Passeig de Garcia. Better still, come anyway.
El Nacional Barcelona
Passeig de Gràcia, 24 Bis, 08007 Barcelona, Spain
Phone: +34 935 18 50 53
Date Visited : Jun 2018