Whether it’s to your taste or not, one thing’s for certain: El Nacional is like no other venue you’ll find in Barcelona. This giant food hall, located in the middle of the city, is located in what used to be an old garage but has been completely made over in a stylish take on the Art Nouveau period, complete with colourful floor tiles, chandeliers and wrought-iron details.
El Nacional can be found just off the Passeig de Gràcia, right in the heart of the city. It’s hidden away in a small alley, which means that – although naturally it does receive a lot of tourist visits – it’s not completely overrun with people and there’s room to breathe inside.
The high-ceilinged hall contains a variety of different areas – a brasserie, tapas restaurant, dessert restaurant, fish restaurant, vermouth bar, wine and cheese bar, cocktail bar and even an oyster bar. As you can imagine, this offers ample choice.We believe it is sponsored in some way by local beer brand Estrella Damm, as you can find Estrella everywhere.
We tried the dessert restaurant, where the food was – as you’d expect – made to perfection but somewhat on the expensive side. In the brasserie, a main course will set you back around €15-20. That said, although food is pricey, some of the more standard beverage options are relatively reasonable – a friend ordered a beer for under 2€ (which came in a fairly small glass, but even so), and a coffee is about the same. So you can come and see what all the fuss is about without breaking the bank.
What El Nacional is really worth a visit to, however, is not the food but the decor. As mentioned above, the whole hall is decorated in period style, meaning that from the moment you step in the door you’ll feel like an extra on the set of The Great Gatsby. We’ve heard rumours that the furnishings alone cost an estimated €3 million, and every detail has been carefully thought out – right down to the blue-willow china (I checked the bottom and can confirm that El Nacional does not buy its plates from Ikea) and El Nacional stamped jam jars drinks were served from. From giant fish sculptures down to Hollywood-style mirrors in the toilets, you will not be disappointed.
El Nacional is clearly not the sort of restaurant you’d eat in every week or even every month. It feels more like a film set or a theme park than a real joint, and as I’ve mentioned before, is pretty touristy (although in a controlled way). That
said, if you’re looking for something a little different, it’s good fun for something different and for a look into Barcelona’s Art Nouveau history, especially if you happen to be in the centre and are feeling rather fabulous.
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