December food does not need to be all about turkey – London restaurants are creating some wonderfully imaginative menus for those who would rather feast on alternative festive fare…
1) For truffle lovers… black diamonds come direct from Piedmont to Parsons Green’s Rigo, one of the best new restaurants of 2017, sourced from Italy by executive chef Gonzalo Luzarraga’s uncle. Chef Luzarraga, who worked under Alain Ducasse at the three-Michelin-starred Louis XV in Monaco, has created a sumptuous menu including polenta, wild duck egg, aged pecorino fondue and winter black truffle; Iberico pork cheek with cauliflower and walnut; and a chestnut tagliolini with Bordier butter. Over in Piccadilly, Fortnum & Mason’s 45 Jermyn St restaurant has created a concise menu of four dishes all featuring white truffles. The star of the show is the toasted cheese sandwich (£26.50), which sounds simple but is like no other; oozing with raclette, the homemade sourdough is coated with freshly whipped butter laden with truffle shavings before toasting. For the full experience, this can be followed by tagliatelle with 24-month Parmesan or champagne risotto (from £29.50), with a finale of malt ice cream with Hoxton honey (£14); each dish is topped with fresh shaved truffle at the customer’s table.
Rigo, £88 for black truffle menu or from £52 for white truffle option, until mid-December; 277 New King’s Road, London SW6 (020-7751 3293; rigolondon.com). 45 Jermyn St, until end of December; 45 Jermyn Street, London SW1 (020-7205 4545; 45jermynst.com).
2) Indian nights bring a different type of colourful celebration to December at the new Dishoom in Kensington. To mark the restaurant’s opening, Night at the Bombay Roxy, a site-specific immersive theatre production by Swamp Studios, is being staged, based on a heady mix of art deco, jazz and the Bombay stories that inspired Dishoom Kensington. The menu includes keema pau – spiced minced lamb and peas with a toasted, buttered, home-made bun; chicken biryani and mattar paneer – Indian cheese in a rich, silky makhani sauce; and, for vegetarians, jackfruit biryani – saffron rice potted with mint, coriander and sultanas and jackfruit.
3) Taking an Asian theme, but adding influences from Africa and the Middle East, is Jikoni. Founder and head chef Ravinder Bhogal will be hosting groups of eight to 10 at her kitchen table to indulge in pumpkin and brassica panzanella with panettone; salmon tarator style; pomegranate quail with chestnut and cranberry maftoul; and a Christmas wreath made from salted caramel crème patisserie.
4) For those who like to be up close to the action, Penhaligon’s and the Savoy Grill have created the Scent of Christmas Kitchen Table menu, a feast to evoke and enhance the notes and tones of Christmas is in the Air scent by Penhaligon’s, which features crisp balsam fir needles and cedar wood. Available on just five dates at the chef’s table – allowing guests to watch Gordon Ramsay’s brigade at work – dishes include canapés of devils on horseback with pine-smoked bacon and roasted chestnuts; sautéed veal sweetbreads with Douglas fir salt seasoning and BBQ cranberry sauce; and venison and forest mushroom Wellington carved at the table. To finish, there’s a Christmas pudding baked Alaska, flambéed in brandy. As they leave, each guest will receive a special Penhaligon’s Christmas gift.
£140 (plus £85 for wine pairing and £135 for prestige wine pairing) for lunch on December 1, 3 and 29, dinner on December 4 and 28 (minimum number to book is six, maximum eight); Savoy Hotel, Strand, London WC2 (020-7592 1373; email@example.com; gordonramsayrestaurants.com).
5) More kitchen table intimacy can be found at Chiltern Firehouse, which is hosting Firehouse Feasts for groups of up to 12. First, champagne, charcuterie and oysters will be served in the heated courtyard, followed by pre-dinner snacks of venison rolls with smoked ketchup and the famous crab doughnuts. At the table, starters include Firehouse Caesar salad, steak tartare and a decadent Wiltshire black truffle and champagne and chestnut risotto, followed by mains including slow-cooked salmon with puffed barley and apple and fennel miso; chargrilled Iberico pork presa; grilled whole cauliflower; and wild sea bass with smoked seaweed hollandaise; and, to finish, a bourbon pecan pie or rich dark chocolate tart.
6) Kobe beef dons a festive crown at Sushisamba this December, with the focus on the Japanese delicacy stretching even as far as the cocktail menu: the Kobe Cocktail (£28) offers a twist on the Old Fashioned by washing Yamazaki Japanese whisky in the highest grade Kobe fat, then stirring in maple and salted caramel. Highlights on the menu include the Kobe Snow Ball (£38) – a Kobe croquette made with carrot, orange and macadamia; the Kobe tartare (£39), served with garlic, honey, ponzu, egg and truffle; and the Kobe English breakfast (£23), which places a Kobe sausage alongside bacon, asparagus and mustard. The ultimate Kobe treat, though, is the Ishiyaki (£1,000 per kg). Served on a hot stone with pickled plum, it needs to be requested at least 48 hours before arrival.
110 Bishopsgate, London EC2 (020-3640 7330; sushisamba.com).