The first frost is yet to arrive, but Christmas party planning has already begun, with Thursday and Friday night tables hotly contested for office parties and weekend seats being snapped up for meals with family and friends. While traditional turkey roasts, cheese boards and spiced puds remain a popular choice, London’s eclectic mix of restaurants also caters for those in search of an alternative Christmas feast.
For a traditional pub – The Alwyne Castle, Highbury
Year-round, this much-loved local serves fantastic pub grub, but at Christmas its menu transforms into an elegant line-up of beautifully presented plates. Juice-dripping burgers and crispy fish and chips will be replaced by a meaty terrine with sloe gin jelly, prime beef cuts with chestnut mash or triple-cooked chips jazzed up with sage and onion, and a strawberry and prosecco sorbet with white chocolate meringue. The Christmas decorations here are spot-on – crackers and holly on every table, Christmas trees heavy with all that glistens and shines, and a gentle hum of festives tunes.
£25.95 for three courses (menu must be pre-booked)
For French – Brasserie Blanc, Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia
French technique meets Great British flavours, from the horseradish crème fraîche which tops exquisite home-smoked Shetland salmon, to the tart poached rhubarb which pairs with a silky crème brûlée, and the brandy crème anglaise which lavishes spiced bread and butter pudding. The star of any Christmas day table, Brasserie Blanc’s turkey is no ordinary bird – its thigh is stuffed with roasted chestnuts, the vegetables are slow-roasted to sticky-sweet perfection and the gravy’s been on the festive tipples, laced with fruity port. There are wines from across the globe, including award-winning organic Bordeaux, both white and red. But Christmas calls for fizz, so why not sip on a stunning Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale?
£42.50 for three courses + coffee, tea and mince pies; wines by the bottle from £25.50
Also available at other BB outlets
For a Bombay feast – Dishooom, Shoreditch
Celebrate Christmas as the Viceroy and Vicereine may have done back in the days of the British Raj – well, if they had ventured out of their grand palace, that is… While inspired by the old Irani cafés of Bombay, Dishoom’s interiors are a little more elaborate than you would have found there, featuring marble tabletops, varnished oak wood panelling and patterned tiled flooring. Dishoom knows how to feast and, taking inspiration from Bombay’s Bohra community, believes that sharing food is the best way to bring people together in celebration. Warmly-spiced samosas, tender chicken curries, aromatic lamb biryani, charred naan and the restaurant’s signature rich and creamy black house daal are just a few of the dishes that form the festive menus. And for those who favour tradition, there’s turkey with all the trimmings, but with Indian flare – the potatoes are doused in Bombay spice, the greens perked up with masala, even the cranberry chutney is given an aromatic kick.
Sharing feasts from £30 to £55 (food must be ordered 48 hours in advance)
For “wow factor” views – Duck & Waffle, The City
At £85 a head, this is one of London’s more extravagant affairs, but it’s worth the extra expense to dine at London’s skyline – perched atop Heron Tower, it’s the highest restaurant in London. There’s bacon wrapped dates – the jewels of the Orient – truffled soup with toffee apple, Cropwell Bishop Stilton on homemade oatcakes and a decadent chocolate fondant with peanut butter ganache and praline crunch to finish. While meat lovers will rejoice at the braised short rib main, vegetarians need not settle for a nut roast or stuffed mushroom – the Jerusalem artichoke ravioli with caramelised cauliflower and brown butter crumble is a triumph.
£85 for five courses + coffee and mince pies
For South American – Andina, Shoreditch
Party Peruvian style with an exotic menu using best of British ingredients. You’ll find woodland squab pigeon with guava fruit sauce, avocado cannelloni with amarillo chilli tiger’s milk, and beef short rib with spicy potato purée. The desserts are masterful creations – chocolate and caramel with whiskey coffee jellies and a potato chop fat with lúcama fruit pastry cream and pickled enoki mushroom. No fiesta is complete without a tipple of two and Andina’s cocktails will have your tastebuds tingling.
Sharing menus from £38 to £50
Also available at sister restaurants, Casita Andina and Ceviche
For Italian – Polpo, Notting Hill
Polpo is modelled on the charming backstreet wine bars of Venice, with high stools lined along a long brass bar, red leather bench seats at marble-topped tables, exposed brick walls and white tiling. Famous for its Spritz hour, it’s one of London’s best spots to enjoy a couple of cocktails and a selection of bar snacks, or cichetti. Polpo’s Christmas menu is vibrant and light. Unlike the majority of Christmas feasts which are heat-heavy, vegetables have the limelight here – there’s a richly flavoured aubergine caponata, roasted potatoes with red pepper and black olives, a crunchy radicchio, fennel and apple spiked with salty Pecorino, and baked pumpkin gnocchi with heady sage, walnuts and piquant Gorgonzola. Meat features in the form of a golden arancini stuffed with al-dente rice and tender beef shin, roast chicken with chestnuts, and baked sea bass with sweet braised leeks. Dessert is an elegant affair – an oozy hot chocolate pudding with blackberry purée, spiced pumpkin panna cotta with candied pecans, and a classic tiramisù layered with ivory cream.
Antipasti + main + sharing sides + dessert for £38 per person
Also available at other Polpo outlets
For seafood – Wright Brothers, Soho
Oyster and seafood specialist, Wright Brothers, offers Christmas on the coast with a menu boasting roast Var salmon, wild Atlantic prawns, potted Brixham crab, Yellowfin tuna tartare and, for those with looser purse strings, a stunning seafood platter featuring oysters, mussels, whelks, prawns, razor clams and langoustine. While not your usual festive flavours – chilli and garlic, miso, seaweed, heady wasabi and zippy ponzu – these animated dishes call for celebration. The Christmas we know and love is, however, found at dessert, in the form of a dramatic flaming Christmas pudding with sticky prune and Armagnac, a chocolate fondant with orange cream and honeycomb, and a moreish Victoria plum and almond tart with decadent clotted cream.
Individual and sharing menus from £42 – £52
For no fuss flavour – Mac & Wild, Fitzrovia
Not a fan of fussy food featuring foams, jellies, quenelles of cream and drizzles of jus? Mac & Wild’s ingenious festive menu puts Christmas into your favourite comfort food. Enjoy all the best bits of your Christmas dinner stuffed between a spongy burger bun with oozing Brie and red cabbage and Brussels for crunch. They’ve even jazzed up the fries with festive flavours. Scottish pride runs through the menu, showcasing the best of Highland produce for which Mac & Wild is renowned, from the meaty venison, black pudding and haggis Scotch egg, and Inverawe smoked salmon starters, through to the whiskey laden puds – Dundee cake or sticky toffee pudding. Try the Winter Whiskey Flight cocktail to warm your cockles before heading back out into the cold.
Three courses for £35
For a Chinese banquet – Park Chinois, Mayfair
You’ll wince at the prices, but for a blow-out Chinese feast, Park Chinois will take you on a tour across China’s regional cuisines in an opulent setting that would rival the temples of Tiananmen. The brainchild of Alan Yau of Wagamama, Hakkasan and Yauatcha fame, Park Chinois’ over the top indulgence brings the glamour of 1930’s Shanghai to London. The restaurant is awash with red and gold from ceiling to floor, and its velvet bar stools, upholstered seats, fringed lamps and heavy curtains ooze luxury. Menus feature Hong Kong dim sum, Beijing roast duck and everything in between. While the cooking techniques are Chinese, many dishes borrow flavours from China’s neighbours and use top quality produce from around the world, including Irish rib-eye beed, Chilean Wagyu, Alaskan king crab and French lobster. Desserts make a sharp departure from Asia, landing in France – there’s pain d’épice, warm apple chausson and a decadent chocolate mousse.
Sharing menus from £60 to £200
For an Indian-Brit fusion – Gunpowder
From 12 December, Gunpowder will be counting down to the big day with 12 days of Christmas feasts, featuring one-night-only festive specials that put a unique twist on traditional, home-style Indian cooking, bringing together Indian flavours and classic Christmas favourites. Spiced root vegetable parcels, stir-fried goose served on a rice doughnut, wild mushroom bharva mirch and kosbadi rabbit masala are just some of the creations you can expect to see on the menu.
Menu not available online – click here to visit Gunpowder’s website and see a sample menu