Quality food. Docklands.
Not usually uttered together in the same sentence, but with the development of the Collins Square precinct, they're starting to make it happen. I know, hard to believe, but they're showing us it can be done.
Case in point, Bar Nacional, bringing a Spanish flavour to the area with a selection of tapas and happy hour Tempranillo (that's something we can all agree on right?)
I will admit, when I arrived to meet with Ricky for dinner, the space confused me a bit. From the tram strop right outside, it's not entirely clear where the restaurant is and where the entry is. Once found, the slick and modern space, with a mixture of rich textures is all very smart, the floor plan a seemingly sitting between being a bar and a restaurant. Then I see the mounted deer head against the angled wood and black metal at the back of the restaurant and wonder if I am in fact actually in a Swiss chalet somewhere?
But that's just me being quizzical more than anything, and perhaps I'm missing a reference to the tapas bars of San Sebastian that are the inspiration for Bar Nacional, since I have not been there myself (something to put on the bucket list now I suppose!)
The menu reads a treat and with such reasonable pricing following everything, it's kind of hard to not just order the whole menu (one of these days I'm going to go somewhere and do that though…!)
We start with some small, but very plump oysters, doused in a jamon vinaigrette, slightly zingy but incredibly moreish as well.
I feel it would almost be a crime to not indulge in a serve of jamon serrano when out in a tapas joint, which followed up nicely after our jamon vinigaigrette-ed oysters. Sliced so finely, it was a treat. Next time I may have to try out the Jamon joselito that has been cured for 4 years to see the difference…
It's quite refreshing to see a croquette filled with something other than jamon, and with broccoli being my favourite vegetable since childhood, I am swift to order a charred broccoli croquette each. Perfectly golden spheres, with a lovely rich nutty flavour, I quickly wished I had ordered more!
I can never turn down morcilla, and at Bar Nacional it was served with watermelon chutney and ribbons of fennel on the side. Oh my. The morcilla is crumbed, giving a lovely crisp casing around the spicy black pudding, got a bit of kick there! The sticky chutney to me was an interesting texture contrast, but not unwelcome at all, the sweetness rounding off the richness of the morcilla.
Easily my favourite dish of the night though, was the chicken liver parfait, with an adorable mini loaf of brioche and a grapefruit puree. The butteriness of the brioche was apparently immediately, with one slice pre-cut to demand your attention straight away. The richness of the parfait completely floored me, with it's sensually smooth texture, effortlessly gliding from knife over the brioche. The way it swirled with the grapefruit puree absolutely amazed me, the sweetness of the grapefruit puree gorgeously complemented the rich and ballsy flavour of the parfait.
I was somewhat devastated when I realised we had run out of bread and still had parfait left…but plates are made to be licked...right?
The smoked flathead on olive wood with eggplant puree makes quite a statement, with a solid slice of wood as a stage, and comes out with just the most delicious aromas. Perfectly cooked, the fish was just delicious, but a bit of a pain to eat as there are about 1 million little bones in there (my count may be off by a lot). The eggplant puree is simply delicious.
Just as we think we could burst, we're treated to a serve of the crispy pig head, with carrots and horseradish. I marvel at the colour of the pigs head, that's been rolled up in balls and ever, ever so lightly crumbed and fried. This results in one of the juiciest balls of meat I've ever had, a nice balance of meat and fat. The delicate and sweet carrot puree gently intwines it's flavour in the richness of the meat, adding that extra layer of complexity.
The greedy in me then decides we need two desserts. Since there are two of us it only makes sense…right?
We order the Tocinillo de Ceilo, which translates to Heavens Bacon, out of curiosity since the dish sounds completely amazing after it's explained to us. Apparently a very classic Spanish dish, back in the day they used to use egg white to preserve Sherry, which meant that you were left with a lot of egg yolks afterwards. Nuns would take these leftover egg yolks and with pig fat, combine the two to make this rich and decadent dessert. It's bacon and eggs, made into dessert. What?!
So excited were we that I forgot to take a photo of the full dish! Oops!
Accompanied with slivers of caramelised polenta, popcorn powder and fried corn husks, little did we know what we were getting into. This sucker was rich and heavy. Sink to the bottom of your stomach heavy. But oh my goodness it was so delicious, it has this very dense texture requiring a bit of force with the spoon but is so incredibly smooth as well. A must try (if it's still around), but don't be silly like us and get another dessert as this will definitely close up the shop!
Our second dessert was the chocolate liquid cake with lemon marmalade ice-cream, which we definitely struggled through after our first! It is simply everything you want it to be, the cake moist, dense, oozing with rich dark chocolate, and the lemon marmalade ice-cream being a delightful contrast, adding a lightness and balancing out the rich.
I definitely struggled home that night, my warm and joyful belly just about at bursting point!
So now I do the unexpected and say that Bar Nacional is bringing quality food to the Docklands, hopefully the first of many. And although I'm not personally totally sold on the space itself, it's still perfectly fine and a parfait like that? I'd happily eat that anywhere.
727 Collins Street
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