LARGE SCALE MODERN CANADIAN
Only recently has the term "Modern Canadian" become so reiterated. It's often offered up as an erudite way to describe a Chef's interpretation of their menu and where they draw inspiration from. Cooks across the country are seeking vision from traditional fare but putting a modern spin on each dish, while respectably trying to "keep it Canadian". The term is rooted in the mass Farm-to-Table movement that has taken restaurant culture by storm, championed by the likes of chef personalities like Dan Barber and famous food journalists like Michael Pollan. But Modern Canadian cuisine has rightly found that a focus on local produce--and a connection to the farmers they source their ingredients from--lends exceptionally to achieving the richest of flavour, texture, and succulence.
Enter Nightingale, which has championed mass-service Modern Canadian cuisine with award-winning excellence. The rousing, new, and much larger sister establishment to Vancouver's long celebrated Hawksworth Restaurant, Nightingale does Farm-to-Table, seasonal, and local without losing the pace. As founding Chef David Hawksworth's second Vancouver venture, the establishment brands itself as a more "fun" and "social" take on what Hawksworth is known for: fine dining.
Described as "informal" Modern Canadian, the renowned Chef's new outfit adds a more conventional dining experience to the Hawksworth brand. Nightingale features more casually dressed staff than those bustling around the bow-tied Hawksworth. Bartenders at Nightingale are often garbed in plaid button-ups: perhaps a nod to classic Canadian attire? Yet, the service doesn't downgrade. A manager remembers our names upon just our second visit, and we're offered a tour of the grandiose room after a single question about the design. Our only service qualm: ordering water, be sure to ask for tap. We were offered a choice still or sparkling, but when we replied 'oh, just still,' we were charged $8.00 for a bottle even though it came in a reused lid-less, milk jug, not a sealed glass.
Recently visiting for our fourth time, we sit at the bar and speak with Nightingale's manager Hao-Yang Wang who has been on the team since Nightingale's inception. Wang describes their menu as casual and interactive, upbeat and vibrant. He says they obtain this atmosphere by offering their voluminous selection of share plates, as well as a more vociferous room than Hawksworth wields.
In terms of the food, Wang touches on their Modern Canadian thread. "As common as it is for people to throw around the words 'Pacific Northwest', it's still a theme we draw from." To Wang Modern Canadian cuisine is, "a pretty big melting pot in terms of what the country has to offer, so we focus on both meanings as much as we can."
"Cooking wise," Wang tells us, "our Chefs focus on whatever does the ingredient justice. [Chef] Phil [Scarfone] would definitely say there is quite a focus on vegetables. We're very lucky in terms of where we're located because our farmers can deliver right to our door. So the vegetables are super tasty and definitely stand out on their own." He agrees that you can sense a lot of Mediterranean influence on the menu, then suggests additional hints of Asian and Italian influence.
"I think pizza is definitely a point of pride as well." Wang adds. He is most proud of the dough. "I believe it was a 9 month process to get the dough to exactly where they wanted it to be before the restaurant opened. We're very fortunate to have Giuseppe [Cortinovis] running our pizza station along with Phil [Scarfone] influencing the final touches, because that dough took a long time.
We try to be different from what the rest of the city is offering. There's a huge Neapolitan influence in terms of pizzas in this city, so ours is definitely what our Chef could call his own. It's not traditional, but not unduly modern. We're different from cities down in the States that are after that heavy, rich, melted cheese type. Ours is a lot more simple, more rustic, but at the same time the flavour combinations aren't overly traditional either. At the end of the day if you want to do pizza right, you have to have the right people in place. Giuseppe coming out of Italy and having been doing this for a long time, is really nice. When he's in the kitchen, that's all he does."
Nightingale’s interior reverberates its central location in the heart of the downtown district where its heritage façade sits at the base of the MNP Tower and presses up beside the notable art deco Marine Building. Designed by the Toronto based Studio Munge, who also headed the design of Hawksworth, Nightingale was recognized as a finalist for Americas’ Restaurant & Bar Design Awards.
The restaurant has a remarkable entrance which sparks the history of 1017 West Hastings, as it was once the home for the former University Club. Multiple cornices perch above the entry, and wood-framed glass doors invite you into a black vestibule. The 7,400 sq ft interior was also able to incorporate some of the 19th century elements. Dramatically, the ceiling heightens and the space gives a modern and eclectic twist on a sophisticated gentleman’s club with burgundy remodelled library chairs, white subway tiled columns, brass industrial lighting fixtures, and wall-to-wall light oak panelling.
As stated on their website, the name Nightingale is inspired by Aesop’s Fable of the Hawk & the Nightingale, which tells the story of a hungry hawk who chooses to keep his smaller nightingale instead of waiting for a bigger bird to come along. This is where the famous proverb, ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ comes from.
Munge’s design explores this fable with whimsicality. Modern geometric nightingales appear to almost fly out of their gilded frames, inhabiting the walls across the restaurant with no restriction from frame to frame.
Red brick tile clads the bar that faces the substantial selection of liquors sitting in dark wooden cabinetry: the focal point of the bar. These encasements escalate in height to the mezzanine above, and sharply contrast the light, oak tones of the entire rest of the restaurant. The dining room on the second floor has a more intimate setting, secluded from the busy entryway and the bustling of the bar.
Some of the more interesting seats in Nightingale parallel the elongated open kitchen. You can studiously watch the kitchen line create each dish, including the aforementioned rustic pizza before it gets placed in the open-fire oven. For a unique celebration, you can reserve their large, 12-seat table situated at the end of the open kitchen on the second floor: their most private seating in the room. Through a large glass window, it overlooks Cordova Street and the marble steps leading up into the MNP tower.
It's easy to see how Nightingale has become a regular hideout for the business district, due both to its location and its "something-for-everyone" menu. Whether you're looking for an escape from the office to discuss new ventures over a Negroni, or for a chic watering hole to let off some steam, Nightingale is certainly a downtown choice.
A version of this article originally appeared in HAZEL NOIX on June 24th, 2017.