Bustling, trendy, and sophisticated, Nightingale restaurant is a mark of the “Manhattan” in the Mountains identity that downtown Vancouver is known for. Achingly elegant with its two-tiered, gold-hued coppers, forest woods and green leathers, this heritage room holds a huge interior with long mezzanine bar. Avian themed, with origami birds and gilded cages hanging from the ceiling, (bespeaking the Nightingale name), it is modern and electric, busy and buzzing. This is a place to go to with friends or loved ones on a Friday night; this is a place to feel vibrant and alive in. But above all, this is a place to go for delicious – absolutely delicious – food.
The menu however, is deceptively simple. Building on a Tapas style dining concept, there are a myriad of small dishes based on seasonal flavours. There are vegetables and salads, crudo and charcuteries, house-made pastas and pizzas, meat and dishes, all made with extremely high quality ingredients.
And what could one expect, but the greatest quality when the Head Chef is Hawksworth himself? David Hawksworth is known as one of Canada’s greatest chefs. His flagship restaurant (and effectively older brother to Nightingale) is consistently ranked in the top 5 of Canada’s best restaurants. Notorious around Canada, it is no surprise that Nightingale ranks so highly in its cuisine. Yet it remains surprisingly accessible in terms of price, ambience, and relaxed atmosphere. Nightingale is inviting, not pretentious, and warm rather than stuffy.
My guest and I arrived on a Friday night for our 7.45pm seating to a crowded restaurant, the cacophonous ceilings echoing the sounds of animated diners. Our kind host took us to our table on the balcony of the second floor, which offered an excellent viewing station for people watching down below as our eyes grazed the hanging birds from the ceiling tops. There is a distinct New York feel to this place that is suggestive of Vancouver’s Manhattan motif, but it is warmer, cosier, and somehow feels friendlier than one would expect. As we began with two waters, we opted to start our meal with two glasses of sparkling wine as we perused the menu. This was the “Unsworth”, a pinot noir/pinot gris, charme de l’île, cowichan valley, from British Columbia. We were mistaken to think it was champagne, before our waiter told us, delighted, that it was in fact sparkling wine from a neighbouring locale.
The menu is split into sections descriptive of the food: there is the ‘Raw’ section, featuring such dishes like Seared albacore tuna, grapefruit, chia seed, lime dressing, crispy quinoa and Market fresh oysters. The ‘Salad’ section with a range of delicious looking salads, and a ‘Vegetables’ section with nourishing delicacies like Roasted cauliflower, sunflower seed, cilantro, guajillo & charred lemon dressing and Grilled broccolini, sesame & cilantro dressing, za’atar or Fried cabbage, cilantro, pecorino sardo dolce, sopressata vinaigrette. A large ‘Pizza’ section offers interesting morsels like Lamb sausage, broccolini, macedonian feta, mint pizza, or Bison cheek, overnight onion, caper berry, san marzano tomato, and Smoked prosciutto, gorgonzola, walnut, arugula, eight year balsamic. There are ‘Small’ dishes, akin to starters, which appear further down the menu and offer House marinated olives, chili, oregano, and Buttermilk fried chicken, spiced maple syrup, sumac, pickles or Braised meatballs, san marzano, parmesan, pine nut, basil. And lastly, before the Dessert options, there are ‘Large’ plates – quite literally humongous portions of Grilled hanger steak, red onion agrodolce, gorgonzola butter, horseradish, or Roasted half chicken, peperonata, macedonian feta, olives or Chitarra pasta, duck ragu, crispy sage, pecorino romano. We were salivating as we read this menu.
As usual, we decided to ask our host to recommend dishes and bring them out for us so that we tried that which we wouldn’t ordinarily gravitate to, and ensure we try the best of Nightingale’s offerings. He started us off with two glasses of 2018 Tantalus, a Chardonnay, by Bear, from East Kelowna, in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. A classic old-world style Chardonnay, this is made in a crisp and lively style, named after Tantalus proprietor Eric Savics’ eldest son, Eric – affectionately known to many over the years as “Bear”. We also had the 2018 Quails’ Gate, Riesling, from West Kelowna, also from the Okanagan Valley. More oily and rich than a German Riesling, this barrel-fermented wine began to be produced in the 1980s at Jordan & Ste-Michelle Winery in Kelowna using fruit from Quails’ Gate’s Family’s Boucherie Mountain Vineyards.
To start, we had a dish of Kanpachi ceviche, lime, mezcal, avocado, habanero, with taro chips. Light, fresh, zesty, yet pleasantly rich with the fish, this was a brilliant take on a ceviche with very moreish crisps to mop up the juices.
Our second course was the legendary Buttermilk fried chicken, with spiced maple syrup, sumac, and pickles, a mountain of crunchy, slightly sweet yet salty deep fried chicken with tangy pickles, and salad of Okanagan apple, celery, avonlea aged cheddar, and walnut with lemon pepper dressing. The salad was fantastic, an unexpectedly delightful combination of crisp, sweet apple with savoury celery, creamy cheese and walnut crunch, wrapped in a zesty hug. Extremely good, and our waiter nodded eagerly with us, noting that it’s an underrated star of the menu.
Given the exceptional cocktail list, our third drink wandered into spirits territory. My guest had the light and delicate Nightingale Martini, made with botanist gin, green & white vermouth, islay and elderflower spritz. I had my staple favourite, an Old Fashioned, this time reworked with grapefruit infused 101 wild turkey bourbon, citrus bitters and sugar. As we sipped these sumptuously (both were delicious), our waiter brought out our main course, a combination of roasted brussels sprouts and duck ragu. The sprouts came with red grape, pecan, and sherry finger, a crispy, wholesome concoction of tasty greens with fruity grapes and rich, decadent pecans. The duck ragu, which we finished before we knew it, came with crispy sage, and pecorino romano, a luscious bowl of perfectly al dente pasta with oozing, meaty sauce. We guzzled this down in rapid fire with Lugliana, To drink, we had the 2016 Podere San Cristoforo, a Sangiovese, from Amaranto, in Maremma, Tuscany, Italy. Bursting with sweet red cherries, raspberries, and flowers, this juicy, fruit-forward wine added a lovely sweetness to the duck ragu, and paired well with the red grapes of the brussel sprouts – an excellent combination.
Finally, to finish, our waiter insisted we try the salted caramel pot de crème, with whipped crème fraîche, butterscotch, and vanilla Breton, as well as the Warm chocolate fudge cake, with espresso gelato, irish cream, and cocoa nibs. The salted caramel was excellent, and perhaps slightly less decadent than the chocolate fudge cake, though the cake’s espresso gelato cut through the richness well. Both were delicious and easily finished with a hunger for more. We drank these down with a gracious serving of Ben Rye 2017, a sweet wine from Italy with an exceptionally rich bouquet of apricots and candied orange peel. Fresh yet intense on the palate, this sweet yet well balanced wine went particularly well with the salted caramel, adding a zesty tartness to the rich dish. Just delicious.
With the meal over, my guest and I walked home, reflecting on how up-market and sophisticated Nightingale restaurant felt, yet how welcoming and deliciously moreish the food was. A Friday evening perfectly spent, this really is the place to be to start the weekend.
1017 W Hastings Street
BC V6E 0C4