This year, we test-drive everything from breakfast meetings and teambuilding activities to festive lunches and late-night clubbing
Russell Cook Photos:
It’s probably not something you’ve previously included in the Christmas party plans, but we think breakfast is an opportunity to get the team around a table – sober – and brainstorm for the year ahead. Hawksmoor Guildhall
(020 7481 6358), with its 22-capacity private dining room and City location, is a great spot to do it.
As a small team, we grab a six-seater booth in the main restaurant. This being Hawksmoor, groups will find masculine, mid-century stylings in a leather banquette-lined refectory space. After coffee and a round of morning cocktails – the Corpse Reviver should dust off the cobwebs – ideas begin to flow. The prospect of a day out of the office is also loosening everyone up – brainstorms should take place under these circumstances more often.
The best bit, of course, is the food. The more carnivorous among us tuck into fillet steaks, while the kipper and poached eggs also proves popular.
Caffeinated and sated, we hop in a cab to Hackney to give Time Run
(020 7241 4666) a try. It’s one of the UK’s most popular escape rooms – Google, Warner Music and the Southbank Centre have all been in to give it a go.
In case you’re not familiar with the escape-game concept, it’s a themed activity where groups have a limited amount of time to solve problems and get out of a locked room. Like The Crystal Maze but a little more, uh, cerebral. It’s also an interesting way to draw out your team’s character traits.
Time Run immerses participants in a fun time-travelling story. We’re greeted by Dr Aubrey Defoe (in full character) who breaks down what lies ahead. Before long we bound into our first room and, without giving too much away, we’re given one hour to solve a series of tricky challenges.
What we don’t know is that we’re being watched throughout. At the end, we’re taken into a room that looks like Phileas Fogg’s personal study and given a breakdown on how we performed. Apparently, we’re ‘the competitors’, which sounds about right. Always up for a fight.
It’s back to the City for lunch at Darbaar
(020 7422 4100), which is the first solo venture of Abdul Yaseen, former head chef at Cinnamon Kitchen. Opened at the end of 2015, his restaurant offers a ‘shared dining experience inspired by the Royal Courts of India’. We gave one of Abdul’s cooking masterclasses a go once and we’ve been big fans of his food ever since.
We sit at the chef’s table, which is in its own private space. The room has a window that looks into the kitchen, so we can see our food being prepared up close. Parties of 12 fit nicely in here; there’s also an exclusive area for up to 20 people back in the main restaurant.
The newly announced Christmas Feast menu (£80pp) includes shared grills like holy basil chicken and wood-fired roasts such as vindaloo-spiced goose breast.
Instead of the usual aperitifs ahead of dinner, we’ve stopped at Roka
(020 7580 6464) to try out its shochu masterclass. Shochu is a sort of Japanese vodka with, as our host Adamo points out, a rich history dating back to the 14th century. We’re being taught how to make our own today, and can come back to drink it whenever we like.
The session takes place around the basement bar of the group’s Charlotte Street restaurant. Before we get creative, Adamo takes us through a dangerously long line-up of different shochu styles, the flavours (and prices) varying wildly.
Time for cocktails, which means we need ice. Jenna takes a rather lethal-looking saw to an enormous block and adds them to our Shochu on the Beach. As we sip, Heather pours five bottles of the special spirit into a mason jar while adding a pile of chopped plums. In six weeks’ time – once the fruit has imparted its flavour – we’ll be back to reap the rewards of our labour.
Farringdon’s the next stop and, believe it or not, we’re hungry again. Good job we’re off to the Bleeding Heart
(020 7242 8238) for dinner. Consistently good-quality French food and bags of character mark this out as a festive staple.
We’re in the cosy, ground-floor Terrace Room. Dark wood, book-lined walls and vintage posters marry well with the baubles and wintry foliage – it’s our own little Christmas in July. There’s space for 46 to sit, and the space has its own bar.
Our three courses feature dishes from this year’s Christmas menu. The cappuccino of wild mushroom and white truffle oil prompts pouts around the table, but our very favourite dish is the roast angus fillet with slow-braised beef cheeks.
It’s a good job that Tape London
(020 7659 9080) is next – we’re ready for a knees-up. The venue opened around 10 months ago and has already built a bit of a rep for itself. Big-name musicians and DJs frequent the club, both to perform and press the flesh. As we went to press, the venue was about to undergo a refurb – just in time for Christmas.
We enter through a private entrance, which leads straight down into exclusive members lounge Little Tape. Chesterfield sofas, oak shelving and stacks of vinyl records are dotted about the place, and there’s even a working recording studio. With space for up to 120 guests, the space is used for private parties and meetings, and is, unsurprisingly, a favourite with the music industry.
Canapés are brought out from the kitchen, before the venue’s award-winning bartender, Rosco, serves some powerful martinis. He knows us well, as he’s used Monkey 47 gin as the base. With those down us – quickly – we’re ready for a dance.
The main club is accessed via an exclusive entrance. Our table is right behind the DJ booth and overlooks the busy dancefloor, where the party’s well-and-truly going off.
Calorie-wise, we’ve had our share today, but that doesn’t stop us heading off for some late-night grub. Hubbard & Bell
(020 7661 3030) is open until 2am, which gives us just enough time to get stuck into a few more courses.
The restaurant’s all-day menu features everything from razor clams and halibut, to beef tartare, ravioli and burgers. At this time of night, with a lot of gin on board, we could eat the lot. Another drink won’t hurt either. Don’t mind if we do.
D&D London’s South Place Hotel
(020 3503 0000) has several breakfast meeting options, including the 20-capacity Peel.
Close to King's Cross, ClueQuest
(077 7007 1577) is another popular escape game, with three missions to choose from.
Soho’s Quo Vadis
(020 7440 1463) is 90 years old in autumn. As part of a refurb, it will soon incorporate Barrafina Frith St.
Smithfield Market's Oriole
(020 3457 8099) is run by the Nightjar team. As you'd expect, the cocktail menu exudes quality.
Also in Farringdon, Jason Atherton's Sosharu
(020 3805 2304) has interiors inspired by a Japanese minka house.
Playful club Toy Room
(020 7734 6066) has just opened its doors in Soho and has the capacity to host up to 415 guests.
High up the Heron Tower, Dan Doherty’s Duck & Waffle
(020 3640 7310) is difficult to beat for early-hours dining.
This article was first published in Squaremeal Christmas 2016