The entrance of El Nacional next to Zara Home on Passeo de Gracia doesn’t prepare me for the Titanic style opulence I find inside. The light fittings on their own are a thing of beauty. First time I walk in I say “wow”. Second time, I still think it’s totally insane. Third time? Third time I am still impressed but I sense what the issues will be.
I am good that way. Being able to project eating experiences by just standing in and absorbing the essence of the place, before I’ve interacted with the staff or put food in my mouth.
My prediction here is that the food will be hotel style. I don’t mean contemporary hotel style since they’ve figured out that they need to get a big name chef to be the anchor of the whole lumbering operation: before that, a traditional hotel. Where there is a head chef that has been doing it for years and many mignons that are slogging away. Where the word ‘banqueting’ brings tears of joy and euro signs to the managements eyes.
No heart. And more importantly no one who really gets it to keep a watchful eye on everything.
Let’s see how my prediction goes?
We choose the fish restaurant: La Llotja. Anjalina takes the banquette seat and I sit on the chair on the outside. Said chair looks wonderfully comfortable but when I sit down it’s instantly clear that the chair is too high and the table is too low. I squirm throughout the entire meal and leave with a thudding lower back ache.
We both order grilled fish. Anjalina orders croaker with garlic, chilli peppers and sherry vinegar (€23) and I order turbot (€25) with a “Getaria* potion”. They come with a choice of sides – spinach, potatoes, or vegetables. This habit has always bugged me (a lot of things bug me) because I think the accompaniments of a dish should be tailored to suit the main specifically. When our dishes arrive, I see something even more irksome (inconceivable really): both dishes come with an identical smear of lemon curd, more suited to a lemon meringue in its disconcerting sweetness than to our fish dishes. It’s ridiculous that I am eating in the Titanic but the poor chef in the kitchen only seems to have access to one squeezy bottle of yellow goop.
My fish is billed as coming with Getaria sauce, although neither of us can find it and when we ask for a little more on the side, it turns out to be a simple (split) emulsion of lemon and oil with raw minced garlic at the bottom. Now that is a “sauce” I would not advertise. Let’s just call it grilled fish and let’s leave it, shall we?
And all the while my back is throbbing from the uncomfortable seat.
So for dessert, we move over to the pretty Paradeta. We order cortados. Mine is inexplicably cold so I send it back and get a new one. We order a slice of chocolate tart, a stale short crust base with some chocolate mousse piped on. Forgetable. What on the other hand is not is the whipped cream that is smudged onto the plate. Seriously. Look at the picture (↑). It looks like someone (Goldilocks? The three bears?) has eaten from it already. With their finger (or paw) and then squeezed some chocolate sauce on top to distract from it.
Was I right? Yes.
A lot of money has been spent on this place. A lot. And it looks good. It will impress you. But you can’t approach eating from this end, you have to start with the food. Always, always.
There is a lot more to El Nacional: a Beer and preserves bar, the brasserie, oyster bar, tapas, cocktails. And the atmosphere of the place is tremendous so I wouldn’t avoid it entirely. Next time, I might just have a glass of wine and some cheese and buy into the whole Great Gatsby vibe and take off my food blogger hat for the evening.
See this and find more addresses on my Foodie in Barcelona Map
*I can find no reference to this sauce in any of my Catalan texts. As far as I can tell, it’s a town to the right of Bilbao.