A forgotten corner of Shepherd’s Bush Market, transformed into a bespoke social space for groups to gather and couples to meet in the heart of west London. Venture through the nest and be welcomed into a hidden garden, full of artworks and flowers, and treat yourself to the delights from the street food kitchen and cocktail bar.
The Hawk’s Nest has been designed to accommodate parties of all sizes in a casual, yet safe environment with space for 120 socially distanced guests.
An endless, depressing sprawl of fried chicken shops and kebab joints lines the road from Shepherd’s Bush tube to The Hawk’s Nest – the glittery light at the end of a litter-strewn, trans-fat-stinky tunnel. We’re greeted at the wrought iron gate, magically wound with climbing plants and fairy lights, by a tiny, muscly female security guard who already knows my name – nice attention to detail. Such measures might not always be necessary, but this was the Bank Holiday Monday that would usually be the biggest day of Notting Hill Carnival, and the Black Lives Matter protests were already kicking off.
Beyond the gate is a dreamy secret garden – more twinkly lights, abundant greenery and funky, uplifting Latin Jazz. An open bar lurks seductively halfway down the long open space, all the tables are appropriately spread out for the weird new world and a fabulously colourful mural of west London covers the entire length of a wall to our left. We are shown to our table by Will, one of the 30-something owners and our waiter for the night – and a more charming, professional and easy-mannered chap you’d be hard-pressed to find. He looks the part too – we’re not in the least surprised when he tells us he lives in Ladbroke Grove. (Later we are introduced to the barman Tom, normally an actor – but you know, pandemic – and, wouldn’t you just know it, he’s equally charming, professional, easy-mannered and easy on the eye.)
Will brings us blood orange margaritas clinking with ice – generous and refreshing – and starts telling us The Hawk’s Nest’s back story, how opening it during a pandemic was a gamble, that the mural is by local artist Annie Finnian-Green (incidentally, her father sculpted the horse’s head at Marble Arch), and that their florist is Lucy Vail, whose upmarket and frankly gorgeous blooms regularly feature in Tatler. OK, these guys are clearly well-connected, but I’d say the gamble has paid off: all kudos to them for creating such a welcoming, atmospheric and inspiring place in very difficult circumstances.
We order via a scannable beer mat which brings the menu up on our phones – full marks for ingenuity – and so the scene is set for one of the best nights out we’ve had for months.
A large group of millennial girls having a high old time – as well as being Bank Holiday Monday, it was the last day of Eat Out to Help Out. I’ve recently made the unattractive transition from disparaging Generation X-er to full-on old curmudgeon when it comes to young people and their ludicrous woke sensibilities, but these pretty little things just seemed to be having lots of fun – pissed selfies and giggles. Selfies happen to be another of my annoyingly opinionated bugbears but here I just smiled indulgently, thinking ‘aww how lovely that they’re having such a good time.’ It’s that kind of place.
At the table next to them was a middle-aged man with a much younger girl (I suppose she could have been his daughter but their body language suggested otherwise). As they left, around 8 o’clock, he said, ‘Yes, I know I’m drunk, but this has all been thoroughly enjoyable.’
‘We have an array of gourmet sourdough pizzas cooked by our Italian chef as well as arancini by street food brand SUGO, calamari, and artisanal ice cream from our Italian neighbours Bertotti,’ says the blurb on the commendably short menu – which bears this out, being divided into Bites (calamari and two types of arancini), Pizzas (nine varieties) and Ice Cream. We order the mushroom and truffle arancini but Will insists we try the tomato and mozzarella version too (both £4.25 for three). Arms suitably twisted, we take his advice and boy are we glad we did. Both are guilty-pleasure-level-yummy, crisp exterior, meltingly gooey within, the tomato and mozzarella tangy and – um – cheesy, the mushroom and truffle unctuous and heady with bosky fungus. They slip down a treat with the two sauces recommended – spicy Picante and creamy garlic and herb – just the thing for mopping up the hefty (it’s starting to become apparent) measures of tequila in the cocktails.
Next, two pizzas to share: Nduja & Chilli (Tomato Base, Mozzarella, Nduja, Pickled Red Chilli & Red Onion, Garlic Sauce) and White Capricciosa (Parmesan and Garlic Cream Base, Artichoke, Olives, Ham, Mushrooms), both £12. Full disclosure here: my husband and I live very close to the Westbourne Grove branch of a certain well-loved pizza chain, and we’ve probably been taking advantage of that more than strictly necessary in the past few months. So we’re used to decent pizzas. But (drum roll…) those at The Hawk’s Nest are several notches higher. The thin, malleable sourdough bases are beautifully browned and blistered in places, their outer edges properly puffed, crusty and chewy. But it’s the flavour combinations (at least the ones we try) that are truly inspired.
Alternating slices of Nduja & Chilli and White Capricciosa, we find it impossible to decide which is superior. The non-traditional white base of the Capricciosa actually suits the traditional toppings better than the more usual red one, highlighting their individual flavours, rather than losing them in one big tomato-y, gloopy mouthful. By contrast, the strong flavours of the Nduja and Chilli need the grounding red base – the sweet/sour pickled chillis and onions really sing against the salty, spicy sausage, but might be a tad abrasive senza pomodori (pretentious moi? Only way I could think of avoiding repetition of red or tomato!).
The pizzas are also huge (so extremely good value for money) and we can’t finish them – which is a bonus, as cold pizza for breakfast is always fun. Sadly it also means we don’t try the ‘Bertotti Italian Ice Cream’. Which is a shame, as the chaps behind The Hawk’s Nest have clearly decided that as the Italian guy creates stupendous pizzas (and presumably calamari), it’s worth outsourcing the rest to the best in their fields – a damn good idea, as far as I can see. I’ll be trying the squid next time.
Plentiful, and flowing. The strong margaritas were £9.50 each, our Val de Loire Sauvignon £27 (pretty reasonable for west London), and as we were having so much fun – such is the atmosphere at The Hawk’s Nest – we decided to stay for another, knowing we had more pizza to look forward to in the morning. We barely noticed the trans-fats-stink and litter on the way back to the tube.
Opening Hours: Monday 16:00-22:30; Tuesday 16:00-22:30; Wednesday 16:00-22:30; Thursday 16:00-00:00; Friday 12:00-00:00; Saturday 12:00-00:00; Sunday 12:00-21:00
The Hawk’s Nest, Goldhawk Rd, Shepherd’s Bush Market, London W12 8DF; +44 203620 6528; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.the-hawks-nest.co.uk