Counting down 15 festive specials to find the only Christmas number one that matters
Christmas sandwiches: what used to be a resourceful way of choking down whatever dry leftovers you didn't even feel like eating on Christmas day - the biggest event in the overconsumers social calendar - has for some reason become a cultural phenomenon, with supermarkets, cafes, bakeries, and Boots all getting in on the action to see who can make their combination of turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce most appealing.
It's usually Pret, isn't it? Let's be honest. But with more festive specials available this year than any other, we're trying as many of them as we can get our hands on, rating them (using our patented system of "out of five Festive Bakes" in honour of the ultimate Christmas special) and ranking them for your mild enjoyment.
15. Chestnut Roast Wrap
M&S. £3.60. (with grape & cranberry chutney on a red pepper wrap)
A halloween-orange wrap full of spinach, seeds, grated carrot, and allegedly some roast chestnuts. It contains all the unbridled joy of a January 2nd detox smoothie. I suppose that compensates for the fact that their actual attempt at a smoothie - a Christmas pudding one - is closer to that sick you did in the sink that year you cracked into your Mum’s cooking brandy than anything you’d call a smoothie. 0/5
14. Christmas Turkey, Pancetta & Brie
200 Degrees. £4.95. (with Homemade chilli & cranberry sauce and spinach)
You know when Bart Simpson really wants Bonestorm for Christmas, and Marge asks the person in the store what game all the kids want, and Bart opens the present to find out it’s Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge? If you change “Bonestorm” to “Turkey, Pancetta, Brie & Chilli cranberry sauce” and “Lee Carvallo’s putting challenge” to “a beef and carrot baguette” it perfectly describes the scenes in our office when we untied the string and peeled back the wrapping paper on this. 0/5.
13. Parsnip Fritter & Butternut squash
This is very festive in that it has the same texture as tinsel. 0/5
12. Falafel with chestnuts & spiced slaw.
Caffe Nero, £3.45 (Sweet potato falafel with roasted chestnuts, spiced slaw & cranberry sauce)
Somebody, sat somewhere in an office at Caffe Nero HQ has made a very deliberate, very scrooge-like decision not to name this the “Fala-la la laaa-la la-la-lafel wrap”. And in doing so, they have ruined Christmas. 0.5/5
11. Pigs Under Blankets.
Boots. £2.75 (Sausages, bacon, stuffing and cranberry sauce on wholemeal bread)
If it was a Christmas film it’d be Love Actually - enjoyable on the surface, but you realise it's actually crap under even the slightest scrutiny. Using art & craft supplies and standing in the snow stalk the woman married to your best friend doesn’t make it not-creepy, Andrew Lincoln; and putting some (but nowhere near enough) cranberry sauce on a sausage and bacon sandwich doesn’t make it Christmassy. The fact it’s called Pigs under blankets should’ve raised alarm bells. 1/5
10. Boxing Day Lunch.
Co-op Food. £2.95 (Smoked turkey with smoked ham, Winter slaw & spiced chutney on white bread)
Co-op accrued a lot of goodwill from us when we tried & tasted the top 5 Meal Deals a few months ago, placing up there with undisputed champion with Boots. That goodwill is long gone after eating this sandwich; washed away in a flood of mayonnaise, unable to be buoyed by even the rubberiest sliced white loaf.
The difference between the Boxing Day sandwich and their usual Christmas lunch sandwich is the fact it contains “smoked turkey” - implying that we’ll have spent Christmas evening labouriously smoking our leftover turkey, rather than spending…quality time...with our families...watching the...Mrs. Browns Boys Christmas Special? Fair enough, pass me the applewood chips. 2/5
9. Festive Mighty Bucket for One
KFC. £7.49 (2 Pieces of Original Recipe Chicken, 2 Mini Fillets, 2 Hot Wings, Festive Fries, Regular Drink)
No I know it’s not a sandwich, but here’s a fun fact: Japanese culture recognises Christmas, but there’s no one unifying traditional way to spend December 25th - then in the 1970s KFC decided to fill that void by marketing themselves as the go-to Christmas meal.
It was an instant success, and forty years on, millions of people across several generations tuck into their traditional KFC bucket every Christmas.
We’re not in Japan though, we’re in Leeds. The only tradition I associate with fried chicken involves the nightbus and waking up with burger sauce on my shoes. Two Christmas out of five, just because the “Festive Fries” taste a bit like the Cheese & Chive Walkers that the Spice Girls advertised in the 1990s, and 2 Become 1 is a festive banger. 2.5/5
8. Christmas Chicken Warmer
McDonalds. £4.39 (Two Chicken Selects with cheese and fire roasted red pepper sauce, in a glazed, sesame topped bun.)
Chicken selects, spicy sauce, raw onion, and cheese. It’s essentially the contents of their piri piri big flavour wrap, haphazardly thrown in a bun. “What’s festive about that?” you ask? Well look what it represents. This is the burger equivalent of that most Christmassy of traditions: panicking that you forgot to get your Secret Santa a present, and shoving stuff you’ve got lying around the house in a gift-bag from last year. 2.5/5
7. Turkey Feast Panini
A panini without cheese? I suppose certain luxuries have to be sacrificed when you start actually paying corporation tax. This is actually decent though, cranberry-studded bread’s a nice touch. You can even be festive and maintain your third-wave-espresso-bar credibility by asking for an egg-nog cortado, rather than an egg-nog latte - the staff will think you’re a wanker, but what are they going to do, spell your name even wronger? 3/5
6. Turkey Feast
M&S, £3.50. (Roast turkey with pork, sage & onion stuffing, cranberry chutney, mayonnaise, smoked bacon & dried onions on seeded bread)
I expected something a little more out-there from the R&D department who brought us a black charcoal brioche prawn sarnie over the Summer (Look back on the best and worst of their Spirit of Summer range here), but as a classic Christmas sandwich, this can't really be faulted.
All the ingredients are good quality like you'd expect, and there's a nice bit of texture from the crispy onions (again, why play it safe when crispy parsnips would've done the same thing but more festively?) but this is the kind of sandwich you'd make for yourself from leftovers if you were spending Christmas as your in-laws house for the first time, rather than the all-out, pigs-in-blanket loaded, mashed-potato-as-condiment monstrosity you'd make at your own gaff. 3.5/5
5. Very Merry Christmas Lunch.
Pret a Manger. £3.50. (Grilled carrots, spinach, vegan stuffing, crispy onions, caramelised pecans, port & orange cranberry sauce)
A carrot sandwich sounds like something you'd make up to take the piss out of vegans, but this is actually pretty brilliant - the chestnut-heavy vegan stuffing is really the main event here, giving the whole thing a spicy warmth. Port & orange cranberry sauce is actually tangy rather than cloying, and the caramelised pecans are a masterstroke, move over "Away in" - Pret is the number one festive a Manger. 4/5
4. Brie & Grape
Tall Boys. £3
This is a classy, festive version of pineapple on a pizza, inside amazing springy sourdough and drizzled with enough olive oil to make the wrapper turn crystal-clear. It's a winner. 4/5
3. The Snow Globe: Christmas Dinner in a brioche roll.
Sainsbury’s. £3.50. (butter-basted British turkey breast and beechwood smoked streaky bacon with Brussels sprout slaw, British pork stuffing, mayonnaise and a sweet cranberry and port sauce.)
Top marks for effort on this one: presented on a plinth underneath a transparent plastic dome, it looks like a festive snow globe, and definitely not one of those experiments where somebody puts a Big Mac in a bell jar to demonstrate that it takes four months to go mouldy.
Capitalising on the increased visibility of its Popemobile presentation, the top of the bun is flecked with star-shaped edible glitter, like vaguely-festive sesame seeds. It’s not all just superficial, either - the fillings actually taste fresh and individually distinct, rather than being squished together into a Christmas mulch.
2. Mustard crusted rare beef
M&S. £4.75 (Soft sage and onion roll filled with mustard crusted rare roast beef, with a pot of crispy Yorkshire pudding scraps to add in.)
There’s always one smug friend whose family “don’t really like turkey, so we’re just giving it a miss this year”, and you always curse the thought of them carving ribbons off a blushing pink short-rib joint while you attempt to wash powdery turkey breast residue from the roof of your mouth with supermarket riesling.
This is that smug friend, in sandwich form - and it’s fucking glorious. The sage & onion bread might look like a dog-egg, but it tastes just like paxo, and it comes with crispy Yorkshire Pudding scraps. 5/5
1. Christmas Lunch Toastie.
Greggs, £3.50. (Turkey with pork, onion & sage stuffing, bacon, cranberry & port sauce in white bread, topped with béchamel sauce, grated edam and mature Cheddar cheese.)
Greggs shot themselves in the foot, really. By inventing the festive bake, they created a krampus and kicked off the festive lunchtime special arms-race. Eager to show they’re not a one-trick pony, they bolstered out their Christmas range with the usual turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sarnie, but then went one further by slathering it in bechemel and cheese, and toasting it into greasy, chewy, cheesy indulgence.
Admittedly it doesn’t look like much on the outside, but think of it as the sandwich version of a haphazardly-wrapped gift from a young relative who wanted to spend their pocket money on a gift for you and wrap it themselves. Except, you know, you actually do want what’s inside of this.
SIX festive bakes out of five. That's right, we're crowning a new festive champion. Maybe that should be a, turkey crown!! Because of the- No, fair enough. 6/5