One trend, three trailblazers

Three ways with: Christmas food

As a turkey shortage looms, what innovative alternatives to traditional festive fare are out there this Christmas season?

11 November 2019

The trend

  • Eating out on Christmas Day is becoming more popular. The number of restaurant bookings made for December 25 rose 240% between 2012 and 2017, according to OpenTable. Traditional British cuisine was found to be the most popular choice among diners eating out on Christmas Day.
  • There could be a turkey shortage this Christmas, according to purchasing company Beacon. Dwindling supplies of eggs from France, which are hatched and raised in the UK to supply a quarter of the nation's turkeys, are behind the suspected shortage and predicted price rise.
  • Goodwill munching: many restaurant operators use festive dishes to raise cash for charity. This year, Itsu will donate a percentage of sales of its Salmon Dill Caviar dragon roll to Over the Wall, while Sushisamba will donate £1 from the sale of every dish on its Christmas menu to Cool Earth.

Christmas: the season of goodwill, a time for giving and, most importantly, a period when indulging in rich, festive delights is not only practised, but actively encouraged.

Unsurprisingly, tradition dictates the content of our Yuletide diets, so when December arrives, the likelihood is you'll find the same dishes, or variations of the classic festive feast on menus at restaurants around the country.

Whether it's because they are catering for the Christmas party crowd, or not wanting to break with time-honoured tradition, large numbers of chefs will stick traditional British dishes of smoked salmon, roast turkey with all the trimmings and Christmas pudding on the menu, in contrast to the fevered NPD releases taking place in retail.

However, while Christmas is rarely used as a time to exercise creativity in the kitchen, there are a number of chefs who are also injecting innovation into their winter offerings. Whether it's putting a spin on a traditional Turkey roast with all the trimmings, or adding festive flavours or twists to their usual dishes, many restaurants are proving that festive food can be fun. 

Those serving some novel variations on the traditional roast dinner include Sri Lankan restaurant group The Coconut Tree, which combines festive ingredients like turkey and sprouts with spice and alternative serving methods to create a street-food-style sharing menu. At Palatino, Stevie Parle puts a Roman twist on traditional British ingredients, serving goose leg, cotechino (a kind of Italian sausage) and mustard fruit with sides of sprouts, chestnuts and guanciale (cured meat), fried potato and rosemary, and red cabbage cooked in honey vinegar.

Scottish restaurant group Mac and Wild is bringing outs its annual Christmas burger – comprising pork stuffing, a venison patty, melted Morangie Brie, red cabbage and shredded sprout tops – as an alternative main course, while J D Wetherspoon has four festive meal deal burgers on its menu this year: brie and bacon; chicken and stuffing; buttermilk chicken and stuffing; and brie and cranberry.

As Jemima Ferguson of Itsu says, menu innovation shouldn't be forgotten at Christmas.

“The fusion of East meets West in Itsu’s Christmas Cracker gyoza is a perfect example of how the brand merges traditional Japanese flavours and cuisines with current customer taste and demand, constantly evolving the category to bring new food experiences to customers. Itsu’s focus on adapting Asian staples for the Western market has naturally led to the development of a Christmas gyoza, combining one of its most popular dishes with the biggest festival in the Western calendar.”

The trailblazers

Katherine Austin, development chef at Itsu, describes the Christmas Cracker Gyoza dumpling: “We wanted to make a limited-edition festive gyoza to add to our well-established gyoza range. Even though we’re an Asian-inspired restaurant, we wanted to add a seasonal British twist to appeal to our customers for the festive season. We’ve called it the Christmas Cracker and it is inspired by Christmas stuffing. The filling is made with pork, turkey, bacon, sage and cranberries, and the dumpling skin is made with beetroot concentrate, which gives it a unique pink colour. The gyoza are steamed on the spot in Itsu stores and restaurants and served with our teriyaki dipping sauce like the rest of our gyoza range. Traditionally, gyoza are eaten as a starter and their small, bite-sized format makes them ideal to share, with several dumplings being displayed per tray and often served alongside other Asian starters. Itsu’s innovative gyoza offering appeals to a variety of occasions, with customers purchasing them as a snack, lighter lunch and a side or starter alongside our sushi or one of our soups.”


Shamil Fernando, head chef at The Coconut Tree, describes the Christmas Sharing Feast – traditional festive dishes with a Sri Lankan twist: “We wanted to do some Christmas favourites – sprouts, turkey, pigs in blankets – but give them a Sri Lankan twist, so they still felt like ‘us.’ As with everything at The Coconut Tree, they are all tapas-style small dishes which are designed to be mixed, matched and shared amongst everyone at the table. The Christmas Sharing Feast options are turkey rolls (stuffed with chunks of tender turkey, potatoes, shredded carrots and leeks) or jackfruit rolls (filled with pulled jackfruit with onions, potatoes and our signature TCT ground spice mix). The Sri Lankan split sprouts and cashews are lightly stir-fried, while the devilled pigs in blankets are cooked with our delicious sticky and spicy sauce. We wanted to offer groups looking for somewhere to eat for a Christmas meet-up something a bit different and thought this would work well.”


Rakesh Ravindran Nair, group development and training chef of the Cinnamon Collection, describes a garam masala Christmas pudding that will be served at Cinnamon Kitchen's restaurants in London and Oxford: “Cinnamon Kitchen has always believed in using the best of both worlds; in this case we combine a traditional pudding that is very much part of British cuisine and culture with a unique Indian spice mix. The process starts at least three months in advance with the soaking of the dried fruits and nuts in alcohol, allowing the flavours to develop. We use a mix of dark rum and brandy to do this as the combination gives a deep, spiced flavour. This is then mixed with eggs, flour, sugar, butter and garam masala, and transferred to a pudding basin. To lock in the moisture, it is steamed for just under an hour. A traditional Christmas pudding recipe incorporates spices like cinnamon and cloves. Garam masala contains both of these spices, amongst cumin, coriander, cardamom and others which accentuate the flavours even more. Our silky cinnamon custard served alongside it finishes the dish off perfectly. There’s no better flavour or smell that best describes Christmas than a mix of boozy, brandy-soaked fruits with spices.

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