For anyone in their 30s, it’s hard to contemplate the prospect of a Christmas without a turkey, without thinking of Mark on the Peep Show losing his rag over what turns out to be a Christmas joke.
Still, with bird flu raging through the country’s poultry farms and wiping out more than half of free-range turkeys this year – and a few geese to boot – it’s a prospect many now face. Thankfully, the era where no celebratory spread is complete without a piece of meat as the centerpiece is slowly fading.
That’s where these restaurants come in, all of which offer small plates and share dishes inspired or straight from everywhere, from Italy to Latin America to West Africa to Africa. India and Japan. These are places where dishes pile up, drinks flow, and frivolity reigns everywhere but in the food, consciously sourced, carefully cooked, and a serious source of joy. And there’s not a turkey in sight.
Kricket is one of those restaurants where good intentions go out the window, when it comes to food and drink. That makes it perfect for December, when most good intentions are already halfway there anyway. Do you avoid carbs? Impossible, with their celebratory bread, the blue cheese and sage kulcha. Saving space for the big day? Impossible. Take a look at the menu: crispy, stringy, sweet-unsalted glasswort pakoras, date and tamarind chutney; a December specialty of grilled duck leg, black dal and radicchio; uttapam (like a dosa) of hot smoked trout, horseradish raita that blows your nose and beetroot. And that’s without mentioning a side of the signature burnt garlic taka dal. Do not drink ? Not anymore, not with cocktails like The Descent, which combine coconut rum, mezcal and lime. With fair prices, an irrepressible joie de vivre and an enthusiastic staff, the only good intention that Kricket responds to is the intention to indulge oneself as much as possible.
12 Denman Street, W1D 7HJ and 41-43 Atlantic Road, SW9 8JL, kricket.co.uk
Maybe it’s the music, maybe it’s the tequila, maybe it’s the colorful prints that erupt from the calm white walls – but there’s something about Paladar that always feels festive. This is especially true when the weather outside is completely at odds with the dynamism inside. In December, Paladar invites groups to feast on a cheerful and generous festive menu, complete with Brazilian bubbles (whose wine list here is a revelation). Long, golden plantain chips with taquero guacamole form a bright, light start to a menu that spans Latin America: think black beef braised with palm sugar and tamarind reduction, and Colombian sour cream; tapioca and cheese croquettes; and corn empanadas filled with pulled turkey and cranberries. It’s surprising, smiley food with an even happier price tag – especially when you factor in the warm, puffy churros with chocolate and ancho sauce and coffee dolce de leche.
4-5 London Road, SE1 6JZ, paladarlondon.com
Tatale is warm, in every sense of the word. It’s visually warm, as the restaurant – snugly nestled inside the Africa Center in Southwark – is all terracotta and colorful cushions. It is spiritually warm, inspired by the Old Chop Bars of West Africa, where everyone from lovers to businessmen to street traders gather to talk and feast. And it’s physically hot, thanks to a pan-African menu of red red black-eyed bean stew, peanut soup – a cuddle in a bowl – and ackee croquettes with scotch bonnet chill, (it also looks like a cuddle) with a particularly vigorous slap thrown into the mix. Simply put, Tatale is a place to warm up, relax and cheer with a round of Star beers and – because it’s one of London’s most reasonably priced, as well as rewarding, party menus – another once that you saw the addition.
The African Centre, 66 Great Suffolk Street, SE1 0BL, tataleandco.com
Before The Holland, chef Max de Nahlik was at Oxalis, a hyper seasonal and extremely creative pop-up. Before that, he was at the Duke of Cambridge in Islington, a pub founded on organic produce and localism. All of this, plus an eye for sustainable design (nearly every part of the interior is salvaged or repurposed) and a keen sense of what makes a pub a pub comes to the fore in Holland: once a ramshackle boozer, now at the crest of the wave of pubs taking over and redefining what gastropub means. Its festive menu is like the pudding: a soup of Jerusalem artichokes or scallops, black truffle and schmalz — the Yiddish word for melted chicken fat — before a feast of roast beef, roast venison or smoked celeriac. black garlic. The accompaniments are seasonal green vegetables and ana apples. There’s not a turkey, sprout or roast in sight, and you won’t miss them either.
25 Earls Court Road, W8 6EB, thehollandkensington.co.uk
Bone Daddies were one of the first to blast Wagamama ramen out of the bowl of soup with their real homemade broth swimming with scallions, soybeans, chili peppers and noodles. Their original Soho location had lines around the block, and although they have eight now, there has been no dilution of their authenticity, creativity, and taste. Their Big Cheese Daddy is one example: the rich and flavorful result of their collaboration with British cheese restaurant The Cheese Bar. It starts like all ramen should, with homemade pork broth, fried pork belly, soy egg and Tokyo noodles; but is then topped off with a snow shower of Spenwood, a sheep’s milk cheese similar in style to pecorino, but made in Berkshire. It’s a complex and oddly Christmas dish, and it’s all through December, with their spectacular selection of sides.
Through the city, bonedaddies.com
Although many restaurants intend to feel like home — or, at least, the Platonic ideal of home — few do as well as Jikoni. There, embroidered cushions, block-printed table linens and powder-pink walls give a vivid definition of the French verb from which restaurant is derived: to restore, meaning to restore. The menu follows the movement. Not that the dishes read like most might have at home, but their execution creates a cozy atmosphere. Dhal Makhni and Montgomery cheddar croquettes, macaroni and cheese kimchi, pie au gratin and scallop congee – these are the best comfort food in the world, fused together and served with a twist in perfect harmony with the comfortable and elegant environment from Jikoni.
19-21 Blandford Street, W1U 3DJ, jikonilondon.com
It’s hard to miss Ombra, and not only because their curiously arty blue and yellow totes are everywhere. This place does all the right things – sourcing fresh local produce as well as Italian specialties, combining the two in simple dishes that belie the chef’s skill and impeccable technique – but they do them better than most, and in a scenic spot by the canal, too. The famous gnocco fritto draped in a velvety boar mortadella is on the Christmas menu, alongside ravioli stuffed with fragrant pumpkin, amaretti and bitter leaves or tonnarelli with crab ragout. Their festive scallop, porcini and bergamot focaccia is a must order – out of curiosity if nothing else – as is the tiramisu, the prince of all festive desserts.
1 Vynerstraat, E2 9DG, ombrabar.restaurant
four hundred rabbits
Vacherin Mont d’Or is the cheese that every Camembert wants to be when it grows up. It’s bigger, beefier, creamier…but, unfortunately, usually confined to the colder months of the year. It’s also a favorite of the Four Hundred Rabbits who this year snagged it on one of their famous sourdough pizza bases to create their Vacherin sharing bread for two. The pizzas themselves are no less adventurous. 400 Rabbits has never been bound by Italian tradition, and their Christmas menu continues that tradition: pies offer duck with shredded sprouts and pomegranate seeds, or roast walnuts with sprouts, mozzarella and the camembert which is still growing. Don’t miss the famous ice cream, inspired this year by the Christmas pudding, with a pinch of cognac. The drinks, offered by local microbreweries, natural wine producers and the East London Liquor Company, are worth mentioning. There is a winter Negroni, mulled wine and a very cheerful variety of draft beers.
Through the city, 400rabbits.com