It’s all about timing your visit. Bar Nacional is the brand new beer, sherry and meat-stuffed Spanish tapas bar - the first of a number of new eateries being built in the businessy hub of Collins Square. So while at lunchtimes/ after work later in the week, the place is pumping, on a Tuesday night it may just be you and some soulful Spanish saxophone tracks.
But that’s no bad thing. The crew here are a friendly bunch who are down for a chat and the space of charcoal floors, dangling bulbs and fake deer busts has been well broken up by a big salami-festooned bar and plenty of partitions, so it doesn’t feel like you’re in a glass cage of desertion.
There are a few concessions for vegetarians in the form of grilled asparagus and creamy, crunchy Brussels sprout croquettes, but this is a menu ruled by pickles and meat. Go for blood-rich slices of ox heart tucked under a blanket of aerated artichoke purée, and baby cider-glazed chorizo bangers served with a doorstop of grilled bread that we use to make spicy hot dogs. Slightly less gut-busting are long razor clams, tossed ceviche-style with lemon, red onion and tomato and served with garlic and parsley toasts for making crunchy seafood crackers.
Pig and vinegar fun comes in the form of thin ribbons of lardo – an almost all-fat salumi made from back fat – curled around tiny pickled beetroots and crunchy rounds of fresh radish, or the crisp pucks of salty pork stripped from the pig’s head and fried in a parsley crumb like meaty croquettes, countered by little pickled carrots and satiny carrot puree. The lardo could live without the cool fudgy egg yolk (it’s a fat on fat overkill) but they’re otherwise great dishes.
We love the wood-roasted fish too. A whole flathead (usually blue cod on the menu) has been cooked on a slice of orange wood and comes apart in soft, slightly smoky hunks.
It’s often the little things we find lacking in Docklands eateries – the result of having a captive audience. But it’s all delicate, prettily presented stuff at Bar Nacional, delivered with good chat, briny Spanish wines and a silky toffee-crusted crème Catalan we’d skip west of Southern Cross Station for in a heartbeat.