Christmas has rocketed into London like a reindeer-pulled sleigh through the night sky. Oxford Street’s all a’twinkle, carols warble from shop doorways and all is merry and bright. Fuelled by the Christmas spirit – and several fragrantly steaming mugs of mulled wine – we hunted down the events in London that most made us want to don an ironic jumper and go a-wassailing…
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (and Women): festive feasting at Claridge’s
Dining at this London institution always feels like a special occasion: pitch-perfect staff; an iconic setting; the sing-song tinkling of an approaching champagne trolley… In its Christmas finery the hotel’s doubly splendid, with silver deer strung over the entrance, a winter wonderland in its lobby, replete with fragrant pines and wintry white (Christmas) noise, alongside lavishly dressed trees and halls.
Christmas dinner Goose terrine with mulled apples, Armagnac-sozzled lobster, truffled turkey and Dorrington ham pie: this is ‘Scrooge at the tail end of A Christmas Carol’, no-holds-barred indulgence, kicked off with a flute of champagne (Louis Roederer, Dom Perignon, Laurent-Perrier… all the big boys play here). To finish, a cool mix of classic nursery sweets and a dash of food sorcery: we liked the dessert-terrarium of crème-fraîche cheesecake, and the buttermilk doughnuts with a slick of chocolate crémeux; but the hallmark Claridge’s Christmas pud is present and correct for purists.
The stocking filler A heavenly host of angelic choirboys – complete with smocks and hymnals – sing in dulcet tones as you set a spoon on your dessert; Claridge’s – unfailingly a class act. The Foyer is an elegant space with art deco flourishes and a Dale Chihuly chandelier, but we recommend taking a table in the quieter Reading Room, which has cosy banquettes.
(The Festive Menu is available until Boxing Day 2016, £85 a person.)
Away in a Manger: the Gingerbread Cabin at York & Albany
Eat your heart out, the witch from Hansel and Gretel: squirrelled away inside this Gordon Ramsey-owned hotel’s courtyard is one of the most adorable gingerbread houses we’ve seen since The Great British Bake Off. An expert example of hygge (Danish-inspired snuggly-ness) with a sprinkle of Christmas glitter, the cabin’s candlelit, heater-toasted and strewn with enough super-soft throws and gingerbread-man-shaped cushions to keep up to 12 guests comfy. Just don’t try to eat it…
Christmas dinner Guests choose from the afternoon tea or the winter canapé menus. Order the former and tiers of sandwiches, stem-ginger-and-cranberry-studded scones, and sweet treats (parkin and crème brûlée) will be whisked to your table with an array of teas. The latter includes venison croquettes (whelp, there go Dasher and Dancer), soup with Xmas-y croutons and crab salad – little gingerbread men are served with both. Cocktails – served in bone-china teacups – are muddled with gingerbread-infused spirits and fixings.
The stocking filler If Wham and Shakin’ Stevens make you feel less than jolly, line up your Christmas playlist before you arrive – guests can plug their iPhone into a Bose sound-system. Genteel pastimes are covered too – there’s Scrabble to squabble over and giant gingerbread men to decorate as you will. No ginger nuts, please.
(Available until 28 February 2017, can be booked in two-hour slots – from 1pm–9pm – for up to 12 guests, from £24 each.)
The Night Before Christmas: afternoon tea at Sketch
Decking the halls with boughs of holly no longer jingles our bells since Sketch in Mayfair lugged a whole forest into their entranceway, with a fresh pine scent and a coat of faux snow. The gallery’s decorations are spare (although there’s more foliage surrounding the famed toilet pods), but servers with holly-wreath headdresses look Christmas cracking.
Christmas dinner Sketch’s magical and moreish afternoon tea has graced many a must-do list. Its seasonal offering follows suit with painstakingly assembled, work-of-art sandwiches (pumpernickel bread with dollops of turnip purée and tomato relish, individually wrapped toastie fingers with comté and black truffle), the prettiest of cakes (a sliver of meringue-encrusted, raspberry-and-mascarpone roly-poly, topped with a teeny snowman) and a special Chrimbo tea blend alongside the usual – and unusual – suspects.
The stocking filler As you’re reaching the comfortably full and dozy part of the tea (we’d estimate at around the second of your cake tiers) one of several choirs arrives to sing you into contentment. Sketch’s largesse matches Santa’s, too – want another toastie? A second home-made melba marshmallow? Just ask – the waiters are blissfully non-judgemental.
(Available until 31 December 2016, £71 a person.)
Ding Dong Merrily on High: The Berkeley’s Rooftop Winter Cinema
There’s a secret hide at the top of the Berkeley hotel. Guests are whisked up to a small open-air roof terrace with a screen set up amid a family of glittering pines. One of London’s most-exclusive cinemas, there’s space for just eight guests who cosy up in four little log cabins – big enough for two – to watch one of three feel-good flicks: Bridget Jones’ Diary, Some Like it Hot or Notting Hill. Faux-fur cushions, heat-tech blankets and hot-water bottles ward off the winter nip.
Christmas dinner Staff dash out as discreetly as ninja elves during the screening to take orders for mulled wine, hot chocolate with melty marshmallows and boards of festive canapés. Just try not to think of Rudolf as you dine on delicious game-y sausage rolls.
The stocking filler Rounds of buttery mince pie-lettes (with brandy butter, natch) and a terminal case of the warm and fuzzies.
(Available from 5 January to 12 February 2017; screenings run on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 5pm and 7.30pm; tickets are £65–85.)