Rating: 4.9 out of 5 Forks
Nightingale is an unusual restaurant that sits alone in the finicky Vancouver restaurant scene.
It is owned by the notable chef David Hawksworth and as such, there is a certain trendy crowd that’s attracted. But glancing around the restaurant on my various visits that are now in the double digits, you notice other defined groups too. Not only are the see-and-be-seen crowd in attendance, but there are also business executives wooing clients which makes sense as the restaurant sits should-to-shoulder with office buildings in central downtown. Moving past the double height downstairs dining room and bar, upstairs seems to be a different crowd all together. There are families enjoying a meal together, likely celebrating, as well as couples out for a romantic meal. And there are the foodies who come to indulge on the varied and interesting menu of sharable dishes, but without the pretensions you’d associate with that kind of place.
Nightingale shines the brightest when you come with 4-6 people so you can work through a plethora of dishes on their menu that features more than 50 items. The rule of thumb is to order two dishes per person, to share family-style. This is the only way I’ve dined there and it’s why I keep returning. Their food is elevated Pacific Northwest cuisine, whatever that means. A better description would be to say they take standard dishes and infuse some creativity to make them taste amazing. Some of the dishes that stand out to me include:
- House bacon and pineapple pizza with habanero and chives. Think: elevated Hawaiian pizza. It was bursting with flavour and I would have happily worked through the whole pie and left happy. They are known for their thin crust pizzas.
- Buttermilk fried chicken with a spiced maple syrup glaze, sumac & pickles. I order this dish every single time I go. I have a weakness for fried chicken and their boneless, tender chicken is lightly battered and counterbalanced with the sweetness of maple.
- Antipasti platter with mortadella, finocchiona, smoked tuna, pickles & buratta. That description doesn’t even start to do it justice, this board was full of tasty morsels running the gamut between sweet and savoury. A scavenger hunt of edible treats to keep all your senses engaged.
- Braised meatballs in a san Marzano sauce with parmesan, pine nuts & basil. Meatballs are not unique, but making them well and as a standalone dish is a skill they’ve mastered. I’ve ordered them on my last four visits and they always go over well. As an aside, this dish is scalable and while it normally comes with three meatballs, when I’ve dined with four people they always upsell adding another so there’s one each. Insignificant to the total charge of the bill, but a thoughtful gesture that shows they put the visitor’s experience front-and-centre.
- Roasted brussels sprouts, furikake, green onions and a sesame dressing. This dish might not pop in its description, but they are known for their sprouts and this rendition was spot on.
- Grilled hanger steak in a green peppercorn jus with horseradish & cipollini onions. Succulent pieces of steak in a rich sauce with sweetly caramelized onions that dance across your tastebuds. I love how they don’t even ask you how you want the steak cooked; it’s brought out medium as that’s the correct temperature for this cut of steak.
I always leave the same way; satiated and content. Feeling good about spending time in their beautiful dining room, loving the food and being taken care of by friendly, attentive and professional staff. Nightingale has nailed consistency which is something I would only attribute to perhaps 15% of the restaurants I’ve visited in Vancouver. And that’s why this restaurant firmly sits in my top 20 and likely always will.
Alistair is a real lover of food having visited 300 restaurants around Vancouver over the last 3 years. Passionate about sharing food while connecting with people, he is the founder and the host of the Dinner Devils. Having spent 10 years living in Europe, he is bringing some of that food culture back home with the creation of this group.