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Here are the best restaurants for that pre-Christmas dinner with friends

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Alex Peake-Tomkinson
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Arranging a Christmas dinner with friends doesn’t have to mean settling for a crammed corner and dried-out turkey. Here’s our guide to the best restaurants for feasting.     

Festive meals are not always the most relaxing. Whether you’re trying to avoid getting into an argument with your Uncle Geoffrey about the Irish backstop or tasked with finding a restaurant within budget for the office party, they don’t always spell fun times.

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The one Christmas meal that has a fighting chance of being enjoyable is the one you have with your friends in early December, after 8,052 messages in the WhatsApp group chat. You’ve done the Doodle poll to find a date everyone can make, now here’s our pick of where to actually go. 

Nutshell 

London

There’s something decidedly celebratory about the abundant nature of Iranian hospitality and Nutshell opened this year to introduce Iranian home cooking more widely to London’s restaurant goers. Their Christmas feast, at £45 per head will be based around a mezze spread, followed by duck with pomegranates and walnuts, fish stew or aubergine with pearl onions and chickpeas. Star billing, though, should go the zulubia on the dessert course: light churros-like swirls of deep-fried batter served with fig-infused cream.

St Martin’s Lane, WC2; nutshelllondon.co.uk 

Christmas dinner: an Iranian feast at Nutshell will make for very happy friends.
Christmas dinner: an Iranian feast at Nutshell will make for very happy friends.

The Gannet

Glasgow

The Gannet was set up in Finnieston, an area of Glasgow often named one of the coolest neighbourhoods in Europe, by chefs who were passionate about showcasing the best of Scottish produce. This ethos is reflected in their festive menus: halibut from the remote island of Gigha and hogget (sheep between one and two years old) from the Borders feature, the latter served with miso and aubergine. Their cheapest menu includes four hearty vegetarian courses for £28 – Jerusalem artichokes and celeriac alongside a luxurious pudding of poached pears and whisky-soaked oats – and a very reasonable wine pairing for £25.

Argyle Street, G3; thegannetgla.com

Dishoom

Edinburgh

Edinburgh is arguably the most beautiful of Dishoom’s sites. Banishing memories of dried-out roasts, the turkey raan is cooked for a day until deliciously tender and served with Bombay-style potatoes, masala winter greens and spiced cranberry chutney. Crowd-pleasers that they are, Dishoom have also brought their spicy fried calamari served with a drizzle of lemon and coriander back for their Christmas Feast menu, after fans voted for its reinstatement. The set menu is £42 per head. 

St Andrew Square, EH2; dishoom.com 

Christmas dinner: let Dishoom tell you how Turkey should taste.
Christmas dinner: let Dishoom tell you how Turkey should taste.

The Bull & Bear

Manchester

Tom Kerridge is bringing his signature style of refined British classics to Manchester in mid-November, just in time for Christmas. Tucked inside the Grade II-listed Stock Exchange Hotel, the restaurant’s festive offering will start with champagne and canapes followed by crispy pig’s head with celeriac rémoulade and spiced date sauce.  The Bank, a private dining space that seats up to 14 people, gives you access to your own cellar stocked with delicious wines.

Norfolk Street, M2; bullandbearmanchester.co.uk

Norma

London

If you fancy sharing generous platters of Sicilian food cooked by Ben Tish, formerly of the esteemed Salt Yard Group, this is the Christmas your dreams will come true. Think aubergine parmigiana, slow-cooked lamb and – of course – the best pasta alla norma, followed by cannoli and plum cake. This newly opened Fitzrovia restaurant occupies a beautiful Georgian townhouse, and there’s a private dining room on the top floor that seats up to 12 people. Feast menus are either £45 or £65 per head.

Charlotte Street, W1; normalondon.com

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Oktopus

Liverpool

Seasonal cooking can often appear dour, but not at Oktopus, which restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin described as “enormous fun”. From a crumbed mussels starter to confit duck as the main course and apple, pear and ginger crumble for pudding, the Christmas menu promises to be joyous without being brash. If you like a sustainable as well as gleeful Christmas dinner, this is the place to be – and you can knock back some low-intervention wine or Black Lodge Brewery beer when you’re done.

Hardman Street, L1; oktopus-restaurant.com

Peter Street Kitchen

Manchester

Peter Street Kitchen is a seriously chic place to eat, and the award-winning combination of Japanese and Mexican cuisine is a special treat come Christmastime. This year, they’re offering a new vegan menu, which can be ordered à la carte and includes grilled corn on the cob with chilli lime cayenne pepper and goma-glazed, roasted aubergine. There are several set menus too, which range from a vegetarian option at £25 per head to £55 per head for a more lavish meal featuring their signature yellowtail sashimi.

Peter Street, M2; peterstreetkitchen.co.uk 

Christmas dinner: Mexican meets Japanese at one-of-a-kind Peter Street Kitchen.
Christmas dinner: Mexican meets Japanese at one-of-a-kind Peter Street Kitchen.

Blackfriars

Newcastle

At Christmas, not everyone wants to eat nouvelle cuisine and the team at Blackfriars are embracing their traditional roots – their dining room is said to be the oldest in Britain, dating back to 1239 when it was part of a friary. They might not be serving mead, but this is the place for homemade black pudding, slow-roasted shoulder of pork or a mushroom-and-nut roast. There’s also wild mallard for the adventurous. Set menus come in at £34 for dinner or £39.90 with a festive cocktail.

Friars Street, NE1; blackfriarsrestaurant.co.uk

Scarlett Green

London

Scarlett Green is one of the newer members of Daisy Green’s collection of Australian-inspired restaurants. It’s the ideal location for a group of friends with different requirements as it caters brilliantly for vegans, carnivores, teetotallers and prosecco-fiends alike. They also combine traditional options (turkey or nut roast) with more leftfield choices – start with halloumi fries or tuna tataki and finish with roasted pineapple and coconut yoghurt. There is a private dining room for eight and a set menu for £35 per head.

Noel Street, W1; daisygreenfood.com 

Christmas dinner: Scarlett Green's festive menu is a crowd pleaser.
Christmas dinner: Scarlett Green's festive menu is a crowd pleaser.

Vardo

London

Private dining rooms can be somewhat sterile, but not at Vardo, the new offering from Caravan. While the restaurant itself – just off London’s King’s Road – has floor-to-ceiling windows, the private dining space has been designed to resemble an 18th-century travelling wagon or ‘vardo’. There are two festive menus at £35 or £50 per head: options include plates of prosciutto, burrata and whole crispy fried sea bass with Thai herbs, before slices of Amalfi lemon tart.

Duke of York Square, SW3; vardorestaurant.co.uk 

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Alex Peake-Tomkinson

Alex Peake-Tomkinson is a freelance writer who is a fan of eating in fancy restaurants alone. It gives her more time to read and she would usually rather be reading but when not reading, she likes watching Spanish football and baking spectacularly hit and miss cakes.

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