Nightingale is the latest undertaking from David Hawksworth, Vancouver’s acclaimed culinary star. Hawksworth first arrived on the scene when he opened West Restaurant. At the time he was a virtual unknown. The West Van raised chef had been busy polishing his skills elsewhere. He worked in such esteemed kitchens as Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons and L’Escargot.
Hawksworth went on to open his own flagship namesake Hawksworth, and adjacent Bel Café, in 2011. Both those restaurants thrived on their meticulous planning. And the new venture is no different.
Nightingale is located in very artfully re-conceived premises of what used to be the University Club. Its ‘bones’ are now incorporated into Oxford Property’s MNP tower on Hastings St. just west of Burrard.
The interior behind the original façade retains a polished heritage air, with lower level lounge below soaring ceilings and the expansive, mezzanine dining area.
The first thing that grabs you when you walk in off West Hastings is a sense of elegance, with library inspired furniture and already popular long bar
Far from stuffy, though, it’s a reminder of days gone by with a distinctly modern feel. The design (by Studio Munge) is a deliberate nod to the original building’s heritage as a gentleman’s club.
Interestingly, the lounge suggests little of the main dining room above.
You might have a tough time choosing tables here. Cleverly recessed, cozy booths—a foodie’s delight—deliver a perfect view of the open kitchen.
Anywhere in the middle of the room yields plenty of buzz. However, grab a spot overlooking the lounge to truly appreciate all that’s going on. Then again, considering how busy Nightingale already is, you may not even get to decide…
Nightingale on the plate…
The restaurant describes its cuisine as “modern Canadian” with a “social approach to dining”. “Honest and unpretentious dishes” are “designed to be shared family-style”. And “showcase local ingredients with global influences.”
In short, think the original Hawksworth’s unwavering approach to regional, seasonal and sustainable. But here in a far more casual setting.
The mainly ‘share’ plates menu is divided into four groups: raw, vegetables, pizza, small and large. What struck me in particular was the good selection of vegetarian plates.
A few of several highlights: Pacific halibut ceviche, finely sliced with lime, avocado, radish and quinoa. This is one of the prettiest dishes, for sure, and very much reminds me of Hawksworth. A delicious beginning.
Oven roasted baby turnips with their greens. It may not sound exciting but small turnips can be absolutely delicious. The tender greens are an added (very healthy) dimension. I love that they can be a year round proposition.
Grilled pork belly with nectarine, white balsamic vinegar and pistachio. Well, there has to be pork belly, right? This is a delicious combination that’s perfect with a glass of Tantalus Riesling.
The unexpected highlight, a deliciously nutty maitake mushroom, which arrives with pecorino, brown butter and hazelnut.
From the dessert list: (above) hazelnut financier with whipped espresso crème. I was also obliged to try the truly seductive salted caramel pot de crème with whipped crème fraîche, butterscotch and vanilla breton.
There’s more, of course, from smartly chosen local taps (including a ‘Nighting-ale’ from Main Street Brewery).
And, yes, there are birdcages… a lovely touch of whimsy.
Bryant Mao’s succinct, eclectic wine list is interesting and smartly sourced. In an ice bucket downstairs, I spotted the exceptional Pazo Señorans Albariño nudging William Fevre Champs Royaux Chablis. Plenty of interesting drops range from Megyer Dry Furmint and Clos des Fous Cauquenina, Carignan Blend to BC’s Culmina Grüner Veltliner and Coolshanagh Chardonnay.
Considering the surroundings, service levels and sophistication, pricing is moderate ($12-$25). You could come here and order a couple of tastes and glasses and still have change from $100.
David Hawksworth has a knack for reading the times. Nightingale sports an upbeat personality in a classic setting. And its refreshingly uncluttered local plates avoid the usual, overworked hyperbole. It adds up to a sophisticated and satisfying downtown lure.
Nightingale, 1017 W. Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC
Open daily 11 a.m. – midnight