El Nacional is the only place in Barcelona we've returned to eat in several times.
Located at the heart of Passeig de Gràcia, the stunning structure of 2,600 m2 was built in 1889, and was originally a cafe-theatre. Decked with greenery in every corner, endless glass windows, art deco chandeliers and original fixtures and fittings, walking into El Nacional feels like stepping into a piece of history.
El Nacional isn't a restaurant per se. It's a gastronomic space divided into four distinct areas - a meat restaurant, a fish restaurant, a tapas and rice restaurant and a fast deli restaurant. All specialise in recipes from the Iberian Peninsula and have a unique atmosphere of their own.
The tapas bar - La Taperia - is heaving and fast-paced, waiters shouting orders, weaving in and out of the packed tables, delivering small plates heaped with traditional local delicacies like Iberian ham croquettes, black rice and Andalusian squid, as and when they're ready.
The fish restaurant - La Llotja - on the other hand is a bit more formal and can be booked ahead of time.
A distinctive feature of the restaurant is the fish market display counter where you can choose your fish, purchase it by weight and then decide how it will be prepared from 5 different cooking methods: in the oven, charcoal-grilled, steamed, fried or on the griddle.
Also offering fresh seafood, oysters and ceviche, this was our favourite spot in El Nacional.
The atmosphere here is incomparable. It's always busy - but not prohibitively so - and feels as though you are eating in the most vibrant spot in town. A must visit!