From the ridiculously good-looking celebrity chef Pete Evans, together with the man responsible for the legendary ‘beef on toast’, and chicken-skin butter with pull-apart bread at Little Hunter, comes Spanish venue, Bar Nacional, located at Collins Square, the new development at 727 Collins St.
Chef Gavin Baker (ex-Fat Duck…swoon!) is at it again, with inventive techniques, and flavours set to blow your mind and woo your tastebuds. He’s also funny, passionate, and despite being from North Carolina, does a great Cockney accent, mostly when the food comes out, when he exclaims proudly “innit gaw-geous!!” Manning the Josper oven and sending out seriously more-ish plates is Chef Alex Drobysz, who is ex- Bistro Moderne (Daniel Boulud) and Gordon Ramsay, and lovely bloke into the bargain.
My first meal at Bar Nacional was a Monday lunchtime, followed up with a long Friday afternoon/evening session, so I’ve managed to sample almost all of the menu, a fact of which I am infinitely proud.
The menu starts with a Charcuterie section, including chorizo, lomo (beef tenderloin) and 3 types of jamon, from Serrano, through to Iberica and all the way to the mother lode – the Bellota Pura.
In the name of research I did my utmost to slay much of the tapas menu, including
- Choricito – simple little sausages cooked in cider, onion and parsley
- Croquettes of charred brussel sprouts, with preserved lemon aioli. Definitely worlds away from the 70’s ‘boil and serve method’ my mother employed (hi mum, love you but they were RANK).
- Pan con tomate – simple but totally delicious toasted bread rubbed with fresh garlic and ripe tomato, then drizzled with olive oil and salt
- Morcilla – spanish blood sausage, and it’s a rich, strong flavour that should be embraced, with a good wine (no problem here)
- Patatas bravas – what’s not to love about potatoes?
One of the highlights of the ‘rationales’ or mains, was the wood-roasted fish. It’s the first time I’ve come across this style of cooking in my travels, and I was absolutely fascinated by the entire process. I even got to sneak into the kitchen and see it being prepared. A trunk of wood is cut into thick slices, which are then rubbed with garlic oil. The fish is laid on the wood slice and roasted in the Josper oven, and when the edges of the bark catch fire, the fish infused with the ensuing smoke . The dish comes served on the wood at the table, with the edges still gently smouldering, accompanied by roasted eggplant. This technique imparts the most incredible, subtle but smoky flavour to the flesh of the fish, and at the moment the kitchen is are working with wood from 8 different varieties of trees, each with their own distinctive flavour characteristics – including orange and almond.
Whilst there we also managed to put away the prawns with chorizo and patates bravas, with peppers and fried egg, and the pork belly with compressed pear and mint. Again, perfectly executed. Speaking of perfect, there are 2 more things that make this place great. The first is the service. The staff are engaging, knowledgeable, and genuinely excited about the food, as well as the wine. Which brings me to the second thing – the wine list. In the words of my esteemed colleague and partner in many drinking crimes, @ladyoenotria, “it’s BANGING!”. This is the work of sommelier and all-round nice guy Jeff Salt (ex-Golden Fields) who has curated a beautiful selection of whites and reds, including some excellent Cava (Spanish sparkling, or as I like to call it, Prosecco with a sombrero) and some heavenly tempranillo.
They tell me ‘postres’ is Spanish for dessert. At Bar Nacional, it actually means ‘food porn of the highest order’. With Chef Shaun Quade (ex Quay, Royal Mail, Urbane and Biota) at the sweet end of the kitchen, you know you are in good hands and in for a good time.
We need to talk about the Tocino del Cielo – translated to ‘Heaven’s Bacon’. This is made with pig fat. Which makes it awesome. Salted maize caramel lies underneath shards of feather-light biscuit, and a lemon sherbert. Oh my sainted aunt. I don’t care where you live. Get up off your chair and get there NOW.
The bitter chocolate liquid cake, with green aniseed olive oil and lemon marmalade ice cream is nothing short of a party in your mouth. The caramel ooze that issues forth from the cake once you slide your spoon into it is smooth, and velvety and I would bathe in that goodness if I could. The lemon marmalade ice-cream is the perfect foil for all the richness – it is tart, refreshing, yet super creamy. I perhaps even recall being told it was made with sour cream, although I may have dreamt that whilst in my food coma. Superb.
There are some mighty fine Quesas (cheeses) on offer as well – we tried the blue cheese which was served on a wooden board with some fresh honeycomb, a perfect combination of sweet and bitey – my lunch date is not a dessert person (I know, what the?) so he was super happy to get stuck into the cheese whilst I inhaled all the cake.
On Friday nights they also have all sorts of excellent bar snacks – including the decadent chocolate churros truffle, with a caramelised white chocolate centre. This you must not leave without trying. And DO NOT SHARE. They also do a mean Sangria, made with D.O.C vino rosso from the King Valley, Dom Benedictine, citrus, cloves, and cinnamon.
Here are the Twitter handles of the main suspects. Give them a follow if you want to play along at home. Or better yet, get your butt on a bar stool and eat ALL the tapas. I’ll be the one drinking sangria straight from the jug. In a totally classy way of course. Ole!