First Look Inside David Hawksworth’s Hotly Anticipated ‘Nightingale’ On W. Hastings

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The most anticipated Vancouver restaurant of 2016 is most probably Nightingale, David Hawksworth’s two storey, 166 seat follow up to his award-winning eponymous eatery and neighbouring Bel Cafe in the Rosewood Hotel Georgia. The first time we talked about the place was over two years ago, so it’s been a long time coming at 1021 Hastings (the old shoe at the foot of the modern MNP sckyscraper). Here’s their quick backgrounder, which Scout excerpted in February:

Echoing the original Hawksworth Restaurant’s focus on exemplary service in an extraordinary setting, Nightingale’s social approach to dining offers honest and unpretentious dishes that showcase local ingredients with global influences.

“We’ve been having a lot of fun planning the menus at Nightingale,” says Chef David Hawksworth. “Our modern Canadian cuisine delivers options catered to the way that people want to eat today. There are choices of share plates, house-made pastas, creative wood-fired pizzas, salad and seasonal vegetable dishes; as well as accompaniments such as charcuterie and crudo.

Inspired by Aesop’s Fable of The Hawk & The Nightingale, the name encourages the celebration of the here and now. Here being the buzzing, vibrant and industrial-chic space in Coal Harbour’s MNP Tower and now being the freshest and finest locally sourced seasonal produce. Aesop’s Fable tells the story of a hungry hawk who catches a tiny nightingale and chooses to eat him instead of waiting for a bigger bird to come along: it gives us the proverb ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’.

Cheeky twists on classic cocktails and gin & tonic on tap at the prominent bar add a playful edge to the dynamic and high-energy dining space. Local craft beers will be showcased alongside a diverse spirit list and an approachable wine program to complement the vibrant cuisine.

Anchored by the focal point of the bar, Nightingale’s provocative 7,400-foot interior was designed by Alessandro Munge, of the multi-award winning Canadian design firm Studio Munge. Munge was also the firm behind the James Beard nominated design of the original Hawksworth Restaurant.

Nightingale’s rustic-chic space takes up the mezzanine and ground floor levels 1017 West Hastings St: a location that has an eye-catching heritage façade and was once the home of University and Quadra Clubs. Many historical 19th Century features have been preserved, such as exposed copper pipes and remodeled library furniture, to complement the autumnal colour palette of hunter green, faded rust and muted oxblood. The cozy interior pays respect to the past but celebrates the vibrancy and freshness of Vancouver as a coastal city with modern accents such as marble counters and light woodcuts.

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Needless to say, I was pretty excited about taking a look inside last week with David, his chef – Phil Scarfone, and his general manager – Taylor Mikasko. The trio kindly showed me around the busy construction site, pointing out the details of the broad, 11 seat bar; the flanking pillars of the decorative fireplace; and the sprawling, twin-chandeliered lounge on the main floor before leading me upstairs to the dining room and expansive kitchen, the latter coming complete with the biggest, most luxurious dishpit I’ve ever seen and a gorgeous gunmetal-grey tiled Woodstone oven. With room for a big crew (at least a dozen at a time) and views of the dining room, a chef’s table, and the North Shore mountains, the open kitchen line is like something out of a dream.

Scarfone’s gleaming playground looked to me to be about 95% complete, and I could tell that Phil was raring to turn the burners on and get cooking. His Canadian/Mediterranean menu reads simply and tantalizingly. I won’t go too far into detail about it so as to leave plenty of room for your own discoveries, but permit me this handful of reveals…

Dandelion and arugula salad, soft herbs, white anchovy, creamed garlic, capers, bread crumb.

Beef heart tartare, cured egg yolk, horseradish, grilled bread.

Roasted king oyster mushrooms, marjoram, serrano, pecorino, lemon.

Spicy soppressata, san marzano, fiore di latte [6 other pizza options].

Pacific octopus, blistered caper, parsley, fermented chili, vinegar.

Braised meatballs, san marzano, parmesan, pinenut, basil, chili.

Grilled pork belly, apple, pistachio, balsamic, mint.

Charred lamb chops, red harissa, charmoula, dukkah

Rustichella d’abruzzo spaghetti pomodoro, san marzano, basil

The menu is broken up into five sections – Raw, Vegetables, Pizza, Small, Large. What I’ve listed above constitutes less than a quarter of the menu’s entirety; it’s a biggie, folks, and to simplify everything for guests and staff alike, they’re rolling with the same one at both lunch and dinner (11am to 11pm).

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As for the design, I was expecting to be impressed and I was. What I saw obviously still had a long way to go before its first service — many of the light fixtures were in (they’re fantastic) and most of the wall panelling was complete (gorgeous), but there were major elements still missing, like all the tables and chairs, banquettes, booths, and so on. Still…wow! The old building’s stately exterior aesthetic makes it easier to imagine the earthy colour palette that Munge is apparently playing with, but none of it was as yet evident. Neither were there 50+ origami birds and miscellaneous other ornamental paper-dermies and artworks, which I’m understandably very curious about! What was evident, however, was the sheer volume of the place. While it may not be cathedral-like in its enormity, Nightingale’s interior still has a similarly breath-taking impact.

And speaking of impact, this new restaurant will be quite the injection of interesting in a section of the city that has long been under the antiseptic sway of big box chains. And while I don’t think Nightingale’s arrival next month will drain every diner/drinker from Joey or the Cactus Club, I can’t imagine it being the sort of place where seats will be easily had. Does that translate into a financial district that still hums after 7pm? I think it might, but we’ll know for sure soon enough.

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