A staple of Spring Garden Road’s nightlife scene, Onyx will be starting the New Year in a sleek new space on Argyle Street, at the former site of Q Smokehouse.
RCR Hospitality Group is the parent company of both businesses. “Our lease was up [at the Spring Garden location] and we made the decision to let it run out,” says Shannon Bruhm, vice-president of operations for RCR. “We weren’t happy with the performance of Q, essentially, and we just thought the space was more conducive potentially to Onyx…It just made sense.”
Specializing in small-plates food and inventive cocktails, Onyx is a sleek resto bar that’s been in business since 2004. “It’s been highly regarded in restaurant circles for a long time and we’re proud of that,” Bruhm notes. “We have a very loyal following. Anyone who wants a higher-end culinary/wine/mixology experience appreciates Onyx.”
Though he likes the space on Spring Garden Road, Bruhm says the move signals a reboot. “I’m not necessarily sure that with what Onyx provides, if Spring Garden Road is better suited to do that than Argyle Street,” he says. “I think Argyle Street lends itself to that vibe.”
Bruhm hates speculating about what the move will mean for business. “The longer I do this, the less I feel comfortable giving those sort of quotes,” he laughs. “But we have another restaurant right next door [Bistro Le Coq], so there are some synergies there…Argyle could use an Onyx on the street. I like the energy of Argyle.”
The current Onyx space is long and narrow while the new space will be wide and open. “It’s very similar in capacity [of 70],” says Bruhm. “The layout’s much different but the capacity of the restaurant is going to be unchanged. The lounge area may be a bit more significant in space, but it’s very close.”
Though the restaurant won’t be expanding, the kitchen will be larger. “The kitchen is a key point there,” says RCR executive chef Tahir Salamat. “In our existing space, we’re very limited with space because of the layout. On Argyle Street, we have a pretty large kitchen.” The new floor plan will allow a smooth flow of food, from the grill through to the garnish table and pickup. “And there is a lot more room for preparation,” Salamat adds.
The expanded space will also give him the chance to experiment with different local ingredients. “What I really want to do is bring in the whole animal from the [Annapolis] Valley, such as lamb and pig, and break it down and use it all from head to tail in the menu,” he says. “It’s exciting to me in my repertoire right now…I’d like to put it out for our clients.”
Salamat brings a unique global influence to his cuisine. “I’ve been all around the world, from Asia to Europe, the Far East and Africa. I bring a lot of culture to my cooking,” he says. “Food in Halifax is changing rapidly. The focus now is on fresh, local and comfort food. It’s exciting to see a lot of chefs coming to the city and creating different menus rather than boring traditional menus.”
While he won’t reveal details of the new menu, he does say he intends to create unique offerings for the new digs. “Concept wise, it’s going to stay streamlined with what Onyx is known for, which is pushing the envelope in the culinary field—comfort food but with modern techniques, so it looks great, is tasteful, and is exciting, and gives our clients a really great experience,” he says.
He likes how the focus on small plates lets customers take risks. “When it’s small plates, you are not bound to one or two pieces,” says Salamat. “It’s easy for our clients to go through two or three selections and see what profile of flavours and textures they like, for something new and exciting.”
Onyx will still offer current menu staples like chicken chops, Northumberland rack of lamb and charcuterie from Oulton Farm. “There’s always room for old favourites, which we’ll involve in the new menu,” Salamat says. He is pleased that his current culinary team at the restaurant will be moving to the new location. “It will be an easier transition than opening a new restaurant,” he says.
Bruhm is tight-lipped about the décor at the new space, which will feature new furnishings. “It’ll have a high-design feel,” he says. “We’re making quite an abrupt change to the feel of the space, so I don’t want to get too much into that right now.”
But some aspects will stay the same. “We hope to take the original Onyx bar, if that’s feasible, and one chandelier.” Melissa Cummings of Design 360 is heading up the project; she designed some of RCR’s other restaurants, including Bistro Le Coq and CUT Steakhouse.
New Year’s Eve will be the final service at the Spring Garden location, with service starting at the Argyle location by mid-January. “We haven’t settled on what we’ll do for New Year’s yet but we do feel that we might do something splashy, like maybe go back to the menu we opened with 10 years ago or we may do an elaborate tasting menu,” Bruhm says. “We’ll present something fun for the last night there.”
Bruhm likens Onyx to the eclectic child of his company’s family. “Onyx is near and dear to our hearts,” he says. “It’s more that stimulating, creative outlet for us as a company…It’s a microcosm of who we are as a company, where we come from and where we are going.”