Igloos, gin and naughty elves: London’s best alternative Christmas events


Igloos, gin and naughty elves: London’s best alternative Christmas events

We know more than one way to make merry in London this season...

Kate Weir

BY Kate Weir28 November 2017

With so many Christmas events in London – each awash with mulled wine and trussed up in tinsel – it’s hard to fit them all into an advent calendar’s worth of time. Luckily for you, we’ve donned our Christmas jumpers and headed out into the city’s light-strung streets. We’ve dined in igloos, sipped cocktails in cabins and got up close and personal with Santa, to draw up our official 2017 nice list…

Mr & Mrs Smith | Christmas events in London | The Sipping Room, Canary Wharf

The Copper Dog cocktails served inside the igloos at the Sipping Room

Dine North Pole-style at The Sipping Room
16 Hertsmere Road, Canary Wharf, London E14 4AX

Is it just like Christmas? Igloos are the stand-out trend this Christmas. And that’s snow joke (boom boom). These hemispherical chill-out dens are so popular that London is beginning to look like an Eskimo encampment. The hottest (coldest?) take are the six on the Sipping Room’s terrace, available to share or book privately. Each is cosily kitted out with furry throws, a mini wood-burner, blankets and tubs filled with mini hot-water bottles. And, in the background, Canary Wharf’s skyscrapers glitter like hyper-modern Christmas trees and the North Dock is strung with twinkling lights. It’s all rather magical, and although you may not be on top of the world, you’ll certainly feel like you are.

All the trimmings… With chorizo Scotch eggs, pork with apple and mustard, and perfectly prepped steaks, the restaurant’s all-day menu of comfort food is a cracker. But purists can enjoy Christmas dinner in microcosm from the canapé menu: a bulging stocking of mini stilton and walnut tarts, pigs in blankets, aubergine sliders with winter slaw, and turkey lollipops. Or go the full Dickens with a four-course feast – a buckle-loosening indulgence of Norfolk Bronze turkey, duck-liver parfait and Christmas pudding, alongside other seasonal treats.

How merry will I get? You’ll be visited by three spirits (and prosecco): the Sipping Room’s trio of seasonal cocktails. Down the Chimney is a fruity, cinnamon-spiced gin drink that’ll slide easily down your hatch. Eat, Drink, and be Cherry (see what they did there?) is a sweet pudding-y sipper of clementine, nutmeg and – you guessed it – plenty of cherry. And, lastly – while feared at office Xmas dos – you’ll want to lock lips with the fizzy, fruity Mistletoe Spritz. Off the main drinks list, the Bramble Forest is as red as Rudolph’s schnoz – and contains enough gin to make you a little rosy-nosed, too.

Botanist Hunting Lodge, Mac & Wild, Bishopsgate

A Botanist Hunting Lodge at Mac & Wild

Hide out in a Botanist Hunting Lodge at Mac & Wild
1 November to 18 January, 9A Devonshire Square, London EC2M 4YN

Is it just like Christmas? Hogmanay isn’t the only thing Highlanders fling for; Christmas with a distinctly Scottish flavour has arrived at Mac & Wild’s Devonshire Square branch, where – in partnership with Islay-distilled gin the Botanist – the cosiest, coolest bothies have been set up in the courtyard. Scented with pine and heather, with fur-lined benches and tartan throws to snuggle under, these lodges bring a little of the northern wilds to the Square Mile. The two, dubbed ‘the Forager’ and ‘the Distiller’, each seat eight to 10 guests for two-hour sessions (£250 minimum spend for lunch, dinner or Saturday brunch). Crank up your Christmas choons on the personal speaker, give readings from a selection of Scottish books (accent optional) and eat, drink and be very merry. M&W’s founders Andy and Calum come from game-butchering and bar backgrounds, so you’ll leave well fed and watered.

All the trimmings… Mac & Wild’s firm favourites – Scotch eggs stuffed with black pudding, haggis pops, and the Veni-moo burger (a warming, melty wonder of a venison patty, cheese, béarnaise and caramelised onions in a brioche bun) – all have cameos on the Christmas menu, but the new festive burger, with pork stuffing, Morangie brie and shredded sprouts makes us feel more pleasantly stuffed than a turkey. The Dundee cake with whisky is a nice native touch, and venison or beef chateaubriand steaks (sourced from Highland estates and lowland farms) are superb.

How merry will I get? As merry as Santa after his night on the sherry… The Botanist has crafted five cocktails for the occasion, all decadently boozy. We like the Bees Knees – a drinkable Rabbie Burns poem of heather honey and thyme, but we’re also partial to the Highland-pine infused G&T. Or take a glug of the Elixir Winter Bramble with ‘Christmas syrup’ to get into the spirit of things. The restaurant’s regular drinks list turns cult Scottish tipples into haute drinks, we like the Irn-Bru Daiquiri and amiable manager Jonas pours a generous nightcap of Buckfast. Sláinte.

Woody Bear bar, London, England

Cheesy eats at Woody Bear

Escape the shoppers at Woody Bear bar
From 3 November, 535 Oxford Street, London W1C 2QW

Is it just like Christmas? True Londoners know that – even on a good day – shopping along Oxford Street requires the elbows of a rugby mammoth and the fortitude of Captain Scott… At Christmastime, it’s a stiff-upper-lip take on Mad Max: Fury Road. The pop-up Woody Bear rooftop bar offers sanctuary for traumatised shoppers, with hot steaming mugs of boozy eggnog, thick blankets to wrap up in, and melted cheese in many guises: really, what more could you want as winter pokes you with its icy finger. (Stop that, winter.) A speakeasy of sorts, Woody Bear is accessed via a secret door, which may require some shady loitering around Marble Arch and Park Lane as you find the sweet spot; and, those spooked out by abandoned fairgrounds, be warned – as the bar’s chosen theme, there are giant clown visages, rusting dodgems and dilapidated rollercoaster carts to sit in. But, also, lashings of melty cheese…

All the trimmings… Dip sourdough into a baked pot of Mont d’Or from Mons fromagerie; scarf down Kappacasein’s raclette with mountain ham and pickles; and munch on croque-ckle warming toasties from Madame & Monsieur (red Leicester with rarebit marmalade, emmenthal with Jambon de Paris). We wish you a dairy Christmas.

How merry will I get? If you’re not in a cheese coma, the nutmeg-gy, Grand Marnier- and bourbon-splashed eggnog is a rare Xmassy treat, served in a flask for discreet(ish) drinking. Cocktails include a creative range of sweet and savoury sippers – we like the rosemary-infused Salty Susan with vodka and grapefruit juice, and the Aperol-laced Lickety Split. Hot gin punch and Old Fashioneds come courtesy of a coin-operated machine – and are good for steeling your present-buying nerves.

Dennis Severs' House, London, England

Inside Dennis Severs’ House

Dennis Severs Installation at Town Hall Hotel
From 1 December, Patriot Square, Bethnal Green, London E2 9NF

Is it just like Christmas? At Christmas, Dennis Severs’ House (at 18 Folgate Street in Clerkenwell) is a decked out like a Dickensian set piece, with a gilded and lit tree, plentiful wreaths, and a laden table of Georgian goodies. This ‘as it was’ 18th-century homestead, which once belonged to Huguenot silk weavers, is a fascinating glimpse into the past and the maximalist decor of the 18th-century. (Sculpted marble, silk swags and Persian rugs… Hygge hadn’t landed yet.) This year the Severs crew are spreading good tidings to Town Hall Hotel (a suave vintage stay in Bethnal Green), where an installation will summon the ghost of Christmas past.

All the trimmings… To enhance your vintage jollity, Town Hall has conceived a brilliant menu of creative canapés. Come in and eat your fill, with wild-boar penny pies and gentlemen’s relish, goose-liver parfait and a morello-cherry macaron, and Christmas-spiced coffee with marshmallow shots. For a lavish feast of yore, book for the indulgent main menu, which stars twice-baked goats cheese soufflé, sloe gin- and treacle-cured salmon, venison roasted with Douglas fir sprigs, and Indian gingerbread drizzled with rum custard and Smoking Bishop jelly.

How merry will I get? The Peg + Patriot bar has wrapped its Christmas offerings tight so far (no shaking), but we’re sure their clever elves are busily infusing spirits with stuffing and garnishing martini glasses with sprouts, if their mad-yet-marvellous year-round menu is anything to go by…

Festive Afternoon Tea at the Connaught, London, UK

Festive Afternoon Tea at the Connaught

Festivi-tea at the Connaught Hotel
From 20 November 2017 to 1 January 2018, Carlos Place, Mayfair, London W1K 2AL

Is it just like Christmas? The seasonal offering from the Connaught hotel (devised by celebrated French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and his pastry pal Nicolas Rouzaud) elevates whimsical Christmas treats to haute confections. Adding to its high-art look, the tea is served in the just-opened dining room of Vongerichten’s new eatery within the hotel. The classically elegant space has been refined by a holy trinity of Jeans/Johns: John Heah designed the interiors and picked the artwork; Jean-Michel Othoniel crafted the dainty, tangerine-hued stained-glass windows; and graphic designer Jean Jullien wittily scrawled over the menus. While you’re there you can also sneak a peek at the Tracey Emin-decorated tree.

All the trimmings… Jean-Georges is on sandwich duty, liberally sprinkling the savoury treats with flavourings inspired by his stints in top Asian hotels: yuzu, coriander, lemongrass. And Rouzeau’s had oodles of fun adding seasonal sparkle to his exquisitely dressed tiers. Chestnut tarts have a dollop of mulled-wine jelly, black-forest gateau arrives as a mousse, there’s a snowball of an almond-praliné coconut rocher; and little gingerbread men can be sacrificed to a warm, gooey chocolate fondue. Naturally, there are freshly baked scones and guests get candy floss for the road.

How merry will I get? If you get a buzz from Chinese and Tibetan flower infusions and swigs of fragrant rooibos, then likely quite merry; but such hedonism calls for a glass of champagne – or many – and (for a little extra) the Connaught can certainly oblige.

Featured image is the Sipping Room