Don’t fancy the shared package with the circus theme? We test-drove some of the city’s more sophisticated spots for a ‘memorable in a good way’ festive party
Words Millie Milliken Photos Max Miechowski
When your crumpets arrive under a cloche, you know you’re out of cold pastries and tepid tea territory. Ducking off Regent Street, we’re starting our day in the cosy environs of Thomas’s Café at Burberry (020 3159 1410), just behind the designer’s flagship store.
We take a pew (literally) either side of our six-seat bench table, and settle into a morning meeting with pots of loose-leaf darjeeling, to the sound of the crackling fire. Dark brown decor, a coffee table full of travel books and low-hanging squirrel-cage bulbs give the space a boutiquey edge, while the menu – as you’d expect of the iconic retailer – is suitably British.
Most of us go for eggs and avo on toast – with my addition of London cured salmon being deliciously thick cut. The more ravenous of the group plump for the rich lobster benedict. Well, it is Christmas after all.
With the day’s business out of the way, we stroll down Oxford Street towards the British Museum. The guys from teambuilding company Wildgoose (0843 781 0443) are waiting for us in the downstairs Claus Moser room to brief us on the British Museum Explorer challenge. We’re to split into two teams and answer questions on an iPad, using clues from the museum’s galleries.
Before we’re unleashed, it’s time for a team selfie (cringe) and a name – last night’s episode of Game of Thrones providing the inspiration. Between deciphering hieroglyphics and identifying Mexican masks, we’re given more daring tasks: Heather re-enacts the opening scene from Gladiator; Damien and I try to replicate a man riding a centaur (with Damien as the latter); and Tobias introduces himself to a stranger as a long-lost friend. If we weren’t laughing – we were – the tourists were getting their money’s worth. By minute 89, I’m sweating, but I’ve seen more of the museum than in my previous decade as a Londoner.
Come Christmas, the Great Festive Escape package will see groups use augmented reality to escape a room in the museum and unlock a map that leads them to further challenges. Holding your evening do elsewhere? There’s also an outdoor map with Christmas-themed challenges leading you to your party destination. Piece of advice, though: don’t wear heels.
My team’s defeat still stinging, I’m ready for a stiff drink. Having been to The Dead Rabbit in New York (voted World’s Best Bar in 2016) I was keen to check out the results of the collaboration between chef Richard Corrigan and The Dead Rabbit’s Gregory Buda at Dickie’s Bar.
Part of Corrigan’s Mayfair
(020 7499 9943), mounted antlers and smart 20s-style furnishings tick the box marked ‘festive feel’. As for the cocktails, they’re pure class. The Capability Brown (a hazelnut-infused take on a Manhattan) has Damien swooning, while our subsequent aperitif mixes Gunpowder gin, Martini, sherry and homemade grapefruit bitters to wonderful effect.
Suitably oiled, we head through to one of the restaurant’s headline event spaces: the Kitchen Library. Corrigan’s personal collection of cookery books surrounds the six-seat, red-leather booth that overlooks his team at work. Knowing chef’s rep, most of us opt for fish: my native Scottish lobster with baby turnips and dulse (red seaweed) is as delicately balanced as it is presented, while the Orkney scallops with vanilla and cocoa is a revelation.
December menus will include the classic turkey option, but alternatives like Cornish cod with clams and roasted halibut with langoustine would be our choice. Go all out with beluga or oscietra caviar – just don’t forget to pre-order.
If we could have another day of Christmas party testing, we’d have our eyes on these equally classy options:
The first meal of the day at The Wolseley (020 7499 6996) is so famous the late AA Gill wrote a book about it. The 14-seat private dining room is the place to book for caviar omelettes, fishcakes with poached eggs or the classic fry up.
The guys at Heaps + Stacks (07792 516264) have created imaginative workshops for the likes of Soho House, Ted Baker and Google. We like the sound of wreath making, Christmas tree potting and marbled cracker making for a festive (and respectable) team ice-breaker.
The Langham, London’s Roux at the Landau
(020 7636 1000) is presided over by – you guessed it – Michel Roux Jr. Its 18-seat Postillion private dining room is a chic affair. High ceilings, its own wine cellar and views of All Souls Church won’t go unappreciated.
Keen to continue the party into the night? See more sophisticated ideas for the evening here
This article was first published in SquareMeal Christmas 2017