Nique Restaurant 30 Vine Street
Nique is Spicing Things Up on James St. North
By Ciara McCann
It was a perfect summer evening at the Camp AGH event this past July when I had my first taste of Nique. During a night that involved drinking Caesars while making friendship bracelets, roasting marshmallows from a s’more bar and listening to live camp songs, my most memorable moment was snacking on an inventive dish called “Sushi Nachos” from a new food vendor in town.
Nique’s Sushi Nachos were comprised of freshly-fried tortilla chips topped with tender cubes of tuna, thinly-sliced chili peppers, diced avocado and decorated with pods of glistening red roe, delicate curls of seaweed, sesame seeds, fresh ginger and drizzled with the tastiest spicy mayo sauce. Every bite presented a new taste experience and left me dreaming about those nachos until the fall opening of Nique’s restaurant at 30 Vine St., on the corner of James St. North and Vine.
Recently, local cookbook author and friend Allison Day and I visited Nique during lunch hour on a busy weekday. The restaurant has a large, bright space with big windows, ample seating, an open kitchen and industrial lighting. Hovering above our heads at our table were lights adorned with colourful antique food tin cans. Pop art murals with Hamilton iconography displayed throughout the restaurant are a visual treat, especially the largest mural at the entrance of the restaurant showing a steel city landscape with sunrays bursting out. Overlapping the scene is a vintage Tiger-Cats logo and a female pilot looking out of the scene. The image filled me with a lot of hometown pride.
The space was full of life. Downtown workers were getting a little rowdy at a long harvest table as they enjoyed a holiday lunch. Two young professionals dressed in tailored suits sipped on tall pints of foamy local beer as they waited for their meals. For being only a few months old, it was great to see the place so busy.
If you get excited about cocktails as much as I do, you must try the Thai Cat cocktail. The blend is as smart as the name. Sweet bourbon was mixed with lime juice, Thai syrup, Bird’s Eye and a subtle hit of chili tincture, balanced by the wonderful weight of a foamy egg white.
My companion opted for Side Launch Brewing Company’s Dark Lager – one of many Ontario craft beers on the menu. A surprisingly light and refreshing tasting beer that still held on to rich flavours of molasses and coffee.
It’s no surprise that the Sushi Nachos were at the top of the menu, available in a small or large portion. They were even better than what I experienced on that summer day and were a perfect primer for the other innovative dishes we were about to experience.
I continued to ride the spicy food train and chose the Thai beef salad as my main course. A generous portion of thinly-sliced medium rare beef was laid on top of a bed of cold noodles, crispy bean sprouts, crunchy peanuts, fresh chili peppers, cool cilantro and a light citrus dressing. Similar to the Sushi Nachos, every bite presented a punch of new flavours and the portion size was just right after our starter.
My dining partner went for the NBLT, which stood for No BLT. Juicy pork belly, earthy purple kale and sweet tomato jam were a dream team. The dish had a beautiful balance of textures, flavours and temperatures.
No meal is complete without dessert, especially when there is Deep ‘n Delicious cake on the menu. Inspired by McCain’s famous frozen cake, Nique’s take on this nostalgic treat was more like a brownie – fresh, dense, sticky and every chocolate lover’s fantasy. The presentation made us giggle with delight as we opened a tinfoil container before diving in.
Towards the end of our meal, we struck up a great conversation with our waitress who told us about Nique’s weekly specials – Buck a Shuck Oyster Mondays, Toonie Fried Chicken Tuesdays, live music from local artists on Thursday nights and a late night menu. Whether you’re looking for the perfect date-night spot, or you’re dining with a group of friends, Nique offers something for everyone every day of the week.
Nique is well on its way to becoming a restaurant staple in the downtown food scene. Their focus on creativity, quality ingredients, new flavours and a hip atmosphere will keep patrons coming regularly.