Save the turkey and trimmings for the 25th – your Christmas party deserves a new menu. And we’ve found the best international chefs in town to cook it for you

Words Annica Wainwright

Alternative Christmas dinners ceviche old street london restaurants

Whenever London comes up in conversations about the best food cities on the planet, the English capital is, rightfully, praised for its diversity. This is a place where you can find great eats from just about anywhere in the world.

So why, when it comes to choosing Christmas party menus, do we default to the same meal year after year?

Let’s be honest: roast turkey will never top a global list of favourite dishes. Most of us enjoy it solely for the sake of tradition (once a year will do nicely, thank you), but it’s certainly not something most of us want to eat every day. Still, there it is, right next to the dreaded brussels sprouts, at just about every office knees-up in town.

So this Christmas, why not do your guests a favour and save them from turkey fatigue (I’ve been there, it ain’t pretty) by ditching the old bird in favour of fresh ideas from some of the best international chefs in town.

And trust us: they will thank you for it by the time the 25th comes around.

Ceviche Old Street london restaurants foodie christmas dinners

Join the Exotica-inspired Christmas parties at Ceviche Old Street

The main event
Whole roast suckling pig, washed down with a Tunki Jungle Bird cocktail.

The inspiration
‘I’m a huge music fan, so I often look to musical movements for inspiration. This year, we’ll be running Exotica nights at Ceviche Old Street for the whole of December, with DJs every night. The Exotica movement had a Peruvian, called Yma Sumac, at its heart, so it’s a good fit. We’ll be theming the menu and atmosphere around it: lots of tropical plants, exotic flowers and projections everywhere. In Peru, we don’t do Christmas lunch, we do Christmas Eve dinner. A classic Lima Christmas would be family mass at 8pm, then going round people’s houses for snacks and pisco sours. We’d make at least five or six stops before ending up back at ours for a roast suckling pig or marinated turkey. Whatever their age, children stay up until midnight – that’s when we open our presents. It’s a real party atmosphere.’ – Martin Morales, chef-patron, Ceviche

The detail

Ceviche Old Street, 2 Baldwin Street, EC1V 9NU | 020 3327 9463

Semi-private dining 60, 80 

Can’t get in? Try… La Bodega Negra

Alternative Christmas dinners aquavit london restaurants

Tuck into a Scandi Christmas spread at Aquavit, Abba soundtrack optional

The main event 
Swedish julbord (‘Christmas table’) dishes. Don’t miss the jansson’s temptation, a creamy potato bake with sprats.

The inspiration 
‘My mum was very busy at Christmas. We all used to help but there are a lot of dishes on a traditional Swedish julbord. Several types of herring, gravlax, roast ham, meatballs, sausages, pâté, black pudding, red cabbage, jansson, home-made sweets… We won’t do a huge buffet at Aquavit, but I’m looking at ways to present a julbord-inspired spread in our private rooms. We might do sharing dishes. You want to please as many people as possible in a big group, so we’ll have five different menus to choose from – including one with turkey. We’ll break it down and cook it differently: stuffed, slow-cooked leg – something like that. – Henrik Ritzén, head chef, Aquavit

The detail

Aquavit, St James’s Market, 1 Carlton Street, SW1Y 4QQ | 020 7024 9848

Private dining 14, 60

Can’t get in? Try… Aster or The Harcourt

Alternative Christmas dinners barrafina adelaide street london restaurants

Pica-pica starters and hearty mains to share at Barrafina Adelaide Street

The main event
Zarzuela or whole milk-fed lamb.

The inspiration
‘Christmas was always a big gathering. We’d eat comfort food and spend time with the family. My parents are from the south of Spain, so the food was always a mix between traditional southern dishes and food from Catalunya. The dish that I remember most is zarzuela, a rich seafood stew. This was a fishermen’s recipe made from trimmings, but the modern-day version is more fancy. You can make it with hake, grouper, langoustines, prawns, mussels or clams – there are no rules. Whatever’s good, you put it in the stew.’
– Angel Zapata Martin, executive head chef, Barrafina London branches

The detail

Barrafina, 10 Adelaide Street, WC2N 4HZ | 020 7440 1456

Private dining 32

Alternative Christmas dinners cinnamon club london restaurants

Try spicing up your Christmas at The Cinnamon Club

The main event
A wide range of subtly spiced curries, alongside roasts with a twist.

The inspiration
‘I actually went to a Christian school, but the biggest seasonal celebration in my family was Bijoya – the three-week period between Durga Puja and Diwali that people traditionally celebrate with both friends and family. It’s important to include everyone – if you miss inviting someone, it’s the equivalent of dropping them off your Christmas-card list – so we would host big groups of people at our house, and also be invited to everyone we knew in return. There were always lots of different dishes on the table, but my mother would always make either a butter-chicken masala or paneer-butter masala. It was really good. So creamy!’ – Vivek Singh, executive chef and CEO, The Cinnamon Club

The detail

The Cinnamon Club, The Old Westminster Library, 30-32 Great Smith Street, SW1P 3BU | 020 7222 2555

Private dining 24, 32, 60

Can’t get in? Try… Darbaar, Gymkhana

Alternative Christmas dinners sartoria london restaurants

Share snacky starters and showstopper mains, famiglia-style, at Mayfair’s Sartoria

The main event
Sea bass cooked in rock salt or whole suckling pig.

The inspiration
‘Christmas is a big deal in Italy. We have a special menu on 24 December and then a whole other feast on Christmas Day. Not one dish is the same. On Christmas Eve you’re only allowed fish and vegetables, so meat is a big deal on Christmas Day. This is when we bring out the ham that’s been curing for a couple of years. We serve it as part of a big starter spread ahead of pastachina, which is like lasagne but with lots of extra goodies. Then a big roast – suckling goat or suckling pig – comes out along with a whole table full of sweets. I’m salivating as I tell you about all this. I wish it was Christmas now!' – Francesco Mazzei, chef-patron, Sartoria

The detail

Sartoria, 20 Savile Row, W1S 3PR | 020 7534 7000

Private dining 6, 25, 25, 50

Can’t get in? Try… L’Anima or Café Murano

Alternative Christmas dinners untitled london restaurants

Fusion (kind of)
Asian-spin roasts meet Tony Conigliaro cocktails at the Warhol-inspired Untitled in east London

The main event 
A tasty bird with all the trimmings – including top tipples.

The inspiration
‘We wanted to do something a bit more informal than your traditional Christmas dinner, so we’ll be offering traditional roasts and trimmings but with a twist, adding some of the Asian ingredients and techniques from our main menu. We use chicken instead of turkey, and we de-bone the bird so you can slice and eat the whole thing. For the carrots we use a miso butter, and the potatoes are roasted and dressed with sesame. The flavours are slightly down the oriental line, but we’re still keeping things recognisable. Tony is making cocktails to match.’ – Rob Roy Cameron, executive chef, Untitled

The detail

Untitled, 538 Kingsland Road, E8 4AH | 07841 022924

Semi-private dining 20, 26 

Can’t get in? Try… Chick ’n’ Sours or Tramshed

Traditionalists should head here to find the best restaurants for festive fun.

This article was first published in SquareMeal Christmas 2017