Features

Festive feasts

It’s not easy to gather everyone you love round the table on 25 December. So if you fancy a pre-Christmas get-together with family and friends, you might find the new trend of sharing platters interesting

Feasting can hardly be called a ‘trend’ – it’s always been part of human social interaction – but as eating out becomes less about dressing up and more about enjoying good food in good company (especially at this time of year), restaurants are increasingly celebrating the relaxed atmosphere that sharing food cultivates.

For Mark Cribb, owner of Jenkins & Sons in Poole, it’s mixed with Sunday lunch nostalgia. ‘We all have memories of eating at a family table with everyone digging in, taking the bits of the joint they like best.’ That vibe is essential to this relaxed restaurant (part of Cribb’s Dorset-based Urban Guild group) where guests get to carve their own slow-cooked shoulder of West Country lamb, or garlic and thyme roast chicken, or fill plates with the roast root vegetables that come with mushroom arancini, deep-fried halloumi, slaw and hummus for anyone preferring a non-meat meal.

Similarly, at Pea Porridge in Bury St Edmunds, Justin Sharp and his wife, Jurga offer perhaps a whole turbot or brill brought to table in its roasting tray, with palourde clams and mussels, or rich melanzane alla parmigiana, or Shimpling Farm hogget fragrant with the Middle Eastern flavours of harissa, apricots and pomegranate. ‘Sharing food creates an easy atmosphere,’ Sharp says, ‘it’s convivial, it engages people, it’s about having a good time with friends and family.’

Florence Fowler at The Magdalen Arms, Oxford, will regularly lay a table for 20. ‘Back in the 70s and 80s it was all about long menus and every guest having something different. That’s difficult with a small kitchen and a lot of covers – thank goodness things are more relaxed now.’ A party might dig into the pub’s ‘phenomenal’ steak and ale or venison suet-crust pies served with buttered greens, or a chicken marinated for three days in harissa paste.

Coombeshead Farm in Cornwall offers relaxed and unassuming eating at the rural six-bed guesthouse and restaurant owned by Tom Adams (of London’s Pittcue fame) and chef April Bloomfield. The tone is set from the start of the 7.30pm dinner when a loaf of bread, fresh from the farm bakery, is brought with a pat of homemade butter for guests to slice, share, tear. ‘It’s a great talking point,’ says Adams, ‘it really breaks the ice’. A feast in itself, indeed.

London

The Anchor & Hope, Southwark
Who needs frills? Head to this Southwark pub for deeply satisfying food that is just meant to be shared – a shoulder of Swaledale lamb, cooked over seven long hours and served with roots and gratin dauphinois is plenty for three, and a suetcrusted pheasant, chestnut and calvados pie will easily feed two. You could do worse than finish with a piece of the generous tarte tatin. anchorandhopepub.co.uk

Blacklock, Soho
Gather a crowd round the long tables in this lively basement restaurant just off Piccadilly to feast on an abundant mixed roast (beef, lamb, pork and everything you’d expect alongside). Chops, grilled to perfection and served in a generous heap on top of chargrilled flatbread, steal the show: the idea is to share, though rave reviews suggest that might not be easy. theblacklock.com

Hawksmoor, Locations across London
For an unabashed meat feast, head to one of the Hawksmoor restaurants where spectacular bone-in porterhouse, chateaubriand, or prime rib beef is served in dimensions sufficient to share. The grass-fed British meat arrives in cast iron dishes with accompaniments aplenty (and delicious béarnaise or anchovy sauces). Head to Hawksmoor’s younger sibling, Foxlow, to share delicious vegan and vegetarian dishes such as roast acorn squash pie with vegan gravy, or carrot houmous (left) with carrot top pesto and chilli – the new menu is part of World Vegan Month, but several dishes will remain beyond November, we’re told. thehawksmoor.com

Out of London

Gunton Arms, Thorpe Market, Norfolk
The spectacle of the Elk Room fire at the Gunton Arms is peerless. Watch as head chef Stuart Tattersall transforms a vast Aberdeen Angus forerib into a showstopper of a joint to share, fat caramelised over the searingly hot flames, or spit-roasts a leg of lamb (right), brushing it with paprika, olive oil and lemon juice as it cooks. Heads are sure to turn as it’s brought to your table! theguntonarms.co.uk

The Magdalen Arms, Oxford
Leave the turmoil that is central Oxford to linger over a meal at the Magdalen Arms pub (above), a brisk cycle ride east up the Iffley Road. Tony Abarno’s generous cooking will reward your exertions, maybe with a slow-cooked shoulder of lamb with gratin dauphinois and pickled red cabbage to share, or a magnificent Dexter beef Wellington to slice up between eight of you. magdalenarms.co.uk

Pea Porridge, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Sharing platters emerge from the tiny kitchen in the tray they were baked in, so leave any ceremony behind as you divvy up the palourde clams, mussels, octopus, red mullet, hake and crab in a generous Portuguese fish stew, scoop warm focaccia into a baked Vacherin Mont d’Or cheese, or share a pot-roast pheasant packed with autumn flavour. peaporridge.co.uk