For a number of years now, I have maintained a certain predication and exuberance for the Christmas lunches, the delicacies and delights awaiting those of a certain festive disposition that announce the approach of the Festive season. Inevitably, their arrival is of a divisive nature, both celebrated and critiqued in equal measure for their quality, in part but almost entirely around the timeliness of their materialization and entrance. As one who was born in the festive period, the seasonal spirit and festivities certainly elicit pure and joyful emotions on my part, and unashamedly, when I enjoy my first Christmas sandwich it does evoke a sense of positivity and optimism for the months ahead. Admittedly, there isn’t a consistency in their standard or quality, from the elegant to the atrocious, and without a doubt none compare for a second to the perfection of the home made left over sandwich with the trimmings from a Christmas dinner. That is my subjective opinion of course but one I’ll hold true.
But of course thee intention over the next couple of months is to sample, enjoy and provide some thoughts around the various Christmas lunches available to purchase on the UK high street as the festive season commences and the countdown to Christmas begins in earnest. I do endeavor annually to broaden my horizons beyond the usual assortment but certainly there is a level of familiarity of repetition that arises as the various establishments return with their classic and tried and tested offerings. The price differential isn’t great, regardless of your intention ultimately you are attempting to attract a certain clientele with a restricted disposable income but there is enough differentiation from the festive Greggs bake to the Marks and Spencers Sandwich. So as I continue to find and enjoy a new Christmas lunch meal I will share my thoughts on each, even try to go for a photo or two with updates as and when they are released. Will any Festive Food achieve the ‘fabled’ 4 Holly’s and a Bush? Feel free to share and enjoy.
Turkey Feast Sandwich £3.50
I begin with a conceit, an admission that whilst this indeed is a good sandwich, it’s not necessarily an exclusively festive treat. Nor, in my own personal opinion should that fact detract from the merits of the Turkey Feast but it does raise the question of whether an all-inclusive sandwich should hold such high esteem. On its own merits a good, quality sandwich with the various tastes and textures of Christmas encapsulated between two slices of bread. Indeed, the bread itself was one of the weakest elements of the sandwich, whether it was from my own particular purchase or by design, it was remarkably dry and certainly would have benefited from the trope of the moist maker to soften the experience on the palate. In contrast the contents was plentiful, not scrimping on the various elements like in cheaper sandwiches but subjectively, I have come to expect a certain level of stuffing and content within my sandwich from Marks and they duly delivered on that regard.
A traditional Christmas sandwich should have the multitude of flavors and textures one would come to expect from putting these elements together. There were indeed a number of textures experienced, the chewiness and saltiness of the bacon, the crisp onion pieces and the sensation of the stuffing within for example. The one disappointment is the inevitable realization of consuming processed or prepared meats in contrast to the sensation of real sliced turkey. The stuffing in addition have the flavor and texture of an instant mix, appreciated for its inclusion but lacking the punch and impact of the multitude of flavors found in a prepared stuffing by hand. Overall and for what it was, the Turkey Feast is a welcome inclusion in the Festive Meals family, setting a good bench mark to measure against. Including a multitude of flavors and textures but lacking somewhat in the overall quality of the ingredient.
Turkey & Pigs in Blankets £3.20
Having experienced disappointment in the technicalities and definition of what makes a pig in blanket as such, and with the very items sitting beside the actual sandwich as ever I came away with disappointment that once more a company struggled with the very simple concept of wrapping bacon around a sausage and serving it within two slices of bread. Perhaps a touch critical for what is a festive lunch it just seems impossible to find. I would arguably except were the ingredients difficult to prepare but it seems the simplest thing, wrap a sausage up and cut along the x-axis creating a cut of bacon and pork. As such, unfortunately they were unable to provide, the turkey once more was processed or sliced formed turkey, passable but failing in comparison to the chunks of Turkey meat found in the Greggs festive toastie. Mass production of sandwiches is understandably costly and challenging, a decent fresh ingredients treat would cost more. Is there a market for such items is questionable however processed formed meat tastes like formed meat, lacking the flavour and seasoning of meat cut from the carcass. A cheap sausage and bacon slice is clear compared to more costly but better ingredients.
Now sage bread, I was curious as to how this would taste, pork and sage stuffing is a classical combination of flavours so I was optimistic it would work. Whether it was my personal taste or the sandwich I ate the flavour of pork and turkey with sage had a strange herby aftertaste. Not unpleasant but certainly noticeable and distracting from the overall experience. Overall I had high hopes for this sandwich, the Turkey Feast was a solid first entry and whilst in comparison to the Greggs toasty it paled it had good substance to it, the Pigs in Blanket sandwich was a let down. The pigs, as ever weren’t in their blankets, the Turkey meat processed and the bread to herby. Not great.
Christmas Turkey Wrap £3.50
A more grown up selection and taste in contrast to the traditional turkey feast Christmas sandwich, I’m normally a little reticent to choose a large chain store wrap for the sole reason the pastry wrap to filling ratio is a little uneven on all occasions I consume them. In contrast to a deli wrap which tends to be bursting with filling, store wraps always come across a little anemic. On this occasion, history repeated itself and despite a promising filling as shown by the time you reach the end the content has thinned out and you are left with a far greater ratio of doughy wrap which isn’t the most pleasant thing to eat. As for the content, this is a more traditional Christmas recipe with a broader range of the fillings you would come to associate including the oft maligned and controversial brussels sprouts in the form of a slaw which gives a more grown up taste to the wrap in contrast to the turkey feast sandwich.
The meat quality of the content is consistent with their sandwich range, the largely processed meat slices as ever in stark contrast to the cuts of real turkey from other chains. The stuffing has the consistency of prepared content, the bacon soft and chewy but lacking a little in seasoning. The real punches of flavour come from the cranberry sauce and the brussels sprout slaw giving a more grown up flavour as alluded to initially. With a softer finish from the doughy wrap, this gives a welcoming contrast to the chewy meat, the crunch of the greens and the pop of the fruit in the cranberries and the herby taste of the slaw. Quite quickly once you’ve enjoyed the filling and meat towards the opening of the wrap you do realise quickly for presentation sake it has been pushed towards the front, the last bits a mixture of dough, sauce and slaw not a great combination. A good overall wrap that gives a different flavour combination than other sandwich I’ve enjoyed but with a certain predictability I just wish it came with a little more content.
Turkey, Bacon and Stuffing Sandwich and Handcrafted Chocolate Log £3.39 Meal Deal
I’ll openly concede my slight, apprehension to Boots sandwiches, and indeed their general food and snacks, having found them historically to be somewhat lacking in substance and flavor in the pursuit of a reduced calorie count and cost. In my endeavors to find that all-encompassing Festive Sandwich my journey brought me to their Turkey, Bacon and Stuffing Sandwich with a Festive chocolate log side snack. Unlike with my offering from Mark’s I found the bread in this to be noticeably softer, a welcome concession as I tend to find dry or thick cut sandwiches somewhat off-putting. The meat within was generally passable although as before, the turkey meat was screaming for some additional flavor or texture, a somewhat bland experience. The stuffing was passable and with my sandwich at least, there was a good sauce to meat ratio resulting in a nice, moist Christmas themed sandwich to enjoy but one where the addition of a less processed meat would have greatly added to the flavor and finish.
The chocolate log in comparison was perhaps best described as a reduced calorie treat in the best, festive tradition of Christmas snacks. Judging the treat on its aesthetic appearance, you could succumb to the allure and individual nature of the log, with a scattering of icing sugar over the flake piece impressed into the icing. Visually, it a welcoming snack however the overall flavor and texture was lacking, or perhaps underwhelming of your expectations. The finish, somewhat claggy and chewy, a strange sensation for what could presumably be a simple chocolate brownie treat. The icing on top was functionary but perhaps could have done with a touch more cocoa or sweetness. As a whole, the two items served and complemented each other well, the slight, tartness of the sauce and bacon matched by the slight sweetness of the Chocolate log. Both perhaps missing a degree of seasoning and flavor but in the pursuit of a healthier nation and from a shop, dedicated primarily to health and well-being serving their function in providing a Christmas treat to those with a predication towards a clean living.
Pigs Under Blankets Sandwich and Festive Flapjack £3.39 Meal Deal
Certainly, some factor are harder to consider and judge, this unfortunately, was relatively easier to ascribe the main critical fault, a significant lack of flavor and seasoning. Quite simply, how Boots managed to take two relatively strong seasoned meats and serve a somewhat bland, uninspired Christmas sandwich is beyond me. As with its other offering the bread was soft and it provided a good meat to bread and sauce ratio, always an important factor for consideration. Beyond that however, was just a substantial lack of flavor, remarkable considering the key motivation and inclusion is presumably salty bacon. I do understand and appreciate the necessity for controlled calorie management and arguably such a flavor combination in the required, seasoning levels I would find enjoyable could be found from a more dedicated supplier but taking this sandwich on its own merits in comparison to its more healthy counterpart was lacking, in texture and favor and would have benefited greatly from a dash of seasoning.
The fruity flapjack I consumed with this sandwich was remarkably moist, certainly in contrast to more traditional flapjacks which are packed with oats and more dry ingredients the inclusion of the fruits and supposedly the recipe choice seemed to have bled through to the final product. In regards to consistency it holds its shape and form, somewhat remarkable given the density of the product but doesn’t necessarily have the chew of a traditional flapjack one would come to expect. As with the chocolate log a greater detail has been given to the finish with a gold dusting along the surface making you aware of the residue on your finger tips when you have finished the product. It had a nice, flavor, if lacking somewhat in the rich fruits associated with Christmas in terms of berries but seemingly, as with the Chocolate Log the reduction in butter and other binding materials in the pursuit of a healthier alternative to a traditional flapjacks comes at the expense of taste. Overall, both items come across as a welcome secondary addition to the Boots festive menu offering an alternative experience and taste to their main offering but both, suffering from the same, subjective short coming being a noticeable reduction in seasoning and flavor.
Ultimate Christmas Toastie £3.95
A bold claim to make in this competitive, festive lunch menu. I’m open and willing to accept perhaps there is an ultimate Christmas Sandwich available today, however I’m reticent to suggest the Costa Toastie is such an item. This is the first heated Christmas item I’ve enjoyed this year, effectively a Turkey Feast sandwich consisting of turkey, bacon, stuffing and cranberry sauce with the addition of melted cheese on top. Perhaps lacking the cleaner, clean crisp aesthetic of the traditional sandwich associated with a melted cheese finish there is certainly substance to this toastie even if the level of meat present within does pale compared to the Marks and Spencer’s Turkey Feast sandwich. Benefiting from being warmed up does create a slight connection to a normal turkey dinner in contrast to the cold meats of a normal sandwich. However, my enthusiasm was tempered slightly by the texture of the cheese which does solidify fairly quickly when cooling and unfortunately does leave a somewhat chewy almost stodgy sensation when consuming. There in lies some of the issues I’ve had with the sandwiches consumed so far, the lack of variety in texture. There are clear distinctions in a traditional Christmas meal, the crack of the roast potatoes giving into the fluffy interior, the mix of soft and hard ingredients in stuffing, the chew of the meat. All of which are noticeably absent.
The meat in the Costa toastie I will commend for being the closest if not using actual cooked meat that has the texture and consistency of turkey pieces and real soft cooked bacon. There is a clear distinction in taste between formed turkey meat and the recognisable flavour of real turkey pieces. I would say this was the latter and a welcome flavour. I couldn’t visually recognise cranberry sauce in the sandwich but there was the sweetness and taste of cranberry in the toastie also the more tart and herb flavour of seasoning although again missing the texture. The cheese used on the top of the toasted sandwich didn’t have a great deal of taste to remember, lacking the punch of a strong cheddar or the creaminess of a European variety. Given the wide variety of cheeses available now with an assortment of additions included I would have accepted paying a little more for a unique cheese blend on top. Although honestly I don’t associate cheese necessarily with Christmas and would have indeed welcomed no cheese being on the sandwich. So a sandwich that has its merits, the use of real meats standing in contrast to cold sandwiches, a nice mixture of sweet and savoury flavours as a result with greater taste and seasoning. But in contrast cheese quickly solidifying and having a strange sensation on the texture and somewhat lacking in meat. Enjoyable, yes but not the ultimate christmas toastie.
Pigs Tucked Under Blankets Panini £3.95
One of the nicer discoveries, and a different take on the pigs in blankets sandwich available at present from Costa. On prior occasion I would have dismissed this chain to an extent but certainly they have become one of the fore runners for my favourite festive food chain serving up a variety of highly quality produce, not necessarily the cheapest available but certainly some of the best in terms of ingredients and selection. This take on the sandwich is served as a toasted panini giving it a slight advantage over the more mass produced cold served offering. It benefits as with the turkey feast sandwich from using high quality meat cuts, the sausages taste like a nicer variety of pork offering, the bacon again of a higher standard with a good selection of green’s and cheese to go with it topped off with a sweet sauce with in, possibly cranberry to temper the saltiness of the two varieties of pork. I still question the inclusion of a cheese to hold and bind the ingredients to this level, acceptable perhaps in other varieties of toasted sandwich and paninis but not what I would associate directly with a Christmas sandwich or even a festive offering. It feels, and taste like an inclusion of necessity to bind the sandwich together and break up the slightly rough texture prevalent in the sausage and bacon meat.
Toasted panini tend to be quite a dry thick dough to consume requiring a soft center to counteract the sensation and to make the meal more enjoyable. Warm, melted cheese certainly does that but also tempers some of the saltiness from the pork sausage and bacon. The inclusion of greens was nice as a token vegetable option but didn’t add a great deal of flavour or depth to this sandwich that wasn’t already there from the nicer ingredients. Certainly in comparison to its cold sandwich counterparts I would probably rate this fairly highly, cold sausage meat and bacon is always a stranger sensation to enjoy compared to their cooked state and certainly the cooked meat is more relaxed and easier to digest. I enjoyed the slight hit of cranberry, a nice little sweetness however felt it could have done with a dash more. The level of ingredients if satisfactory but where I feel Costa could improve to make this a truly great sandwich is to add, just a little bit more. I’ve yet to feel satisfied, not greedy, but just satisfied with the level of ingredients within. A very nice, festive panini, just a little bit more would have made it perfect.
Pigs & Blankets Mac & Cheese £3.99
Subjectively, I found this product somewhat deceitful. Not for any great transgression but solely because I do have a fondness for pigs in blankets, the slightly sweet pork meat wrapped in the salty cured bacon. The contrast in sensation as you bite through the slightly crispy, chewy bacon before arriving at the soft sausage interior. Sadly, none of these sensations were present although to be fair certainly the taste and seasoning as a whole was of a good quality. One issue I’ve always had with Mac and Cheese in general is how bland the cheese tastes, I have a strong penchant for a good strong cheddar in my cheese and find the selection tends to veer towards the gooey and bland. On this occasion Costa have made the right decision and the result is a good strong taste with a variety of herbs to balance the flavour. Arguable the portion size is fairly small, you certainly don’t come away feeling bloated or full from this but then portion control is a real issue to be addressed and the calorie content of this dish probably does require some moderation so in that regard I won’t critique it to harshly.
Ordinarily a sufficient snack in itself but to give a festive take on this iconic American dish is the inclusion of Pigs in or on this occasion And Blankets, a side dish at the Christmas table that has become a staple Christmas Sandwich option to the more filling Turkey Feast option. Unfortunately I do have to critique the dish here, the sausages in fairness as small chipolata style sausages however the pork is seemingly pancetta, not so much a blanket more a quilt square. Together the flavours do work with the tart cheese flavour to create a delicious flavour of salty cheese goodness. I just wish they had been the traditional small pigs in blankets instead of separated or deconstructed. One issue I’ve experienced with Christmas food so far is the general quality of the meat which tends to be formed produce, Costa product to date have generally used real cuts of meat in their food, on this occasion it works well to contrast the macaroni and cheese sauce. Delicious, if slightly deceiving in its description.
Sticky Toffee and Ginger cake £2.55
I do enjoy greatly a nice, oozing slice of sticky toffee cake, the soaked base almost dripping the caramilized sugar onto the plate is a delicious indulgence. I was optimistic for this cake given a bad pudding is a hard thing to accomplish however, I did come away from this somewhat lacking in gratification. This mixes the opulence and sweetness of the toffee into the ginger cake mixture however on the cake I consumed, the ginger had been added fairly heavy handedly to the point there was almost an acrid after taste when finishing the pudding. I do enjoy ginger as a seasoning and addition, as a concept adding the ginger as a countenance to the toffee could and should work but arguably to a lesser degree. This cake certainly has more of a nostalgic appeal of the familiar with the end result somewhat lacking.
Not a particularly attractive cake to review or appeal to, the salted caramel drizzle across the top was a nice contrasting taste to enjoy however the icing wasn’t that pleasant but didn’t leave to great an after taste. One of the hazards when using such a powerful flavour like ginger is the chance it will over powder any other more delicate tones running through the dessert. On this occasion where possibly it was the slice I ate or the entire cake recipe the ginger was quite over powering and tarnished what would otherwise have been a slice of sticky heaven. A few nice garnishes such as the icing star on top although given the level of sugar already baked into the cake this was an almost unwelcome hit of additional sugar.
Vegan and Gluten Free Mince Meat Tart £2.20
I’ll unashamedly hold my mothers mince-pie up as the defining and best mince-pie I consume on an annual basis, a fantastic blend of crisp pastry, quality mince meat and a nice sugary glaze. I’m a harsh critic on cheap pies and will hold them with disdain in quick order. It was with somewhat delight that I found the mince tart available from Costa a very enjoyable item. Labelled as vegan and gluten-free I wasn’t holding out great hope as to the texture and flavor I would experience, looking neither different or notable from other store brought mince pies. Aesthetically the mince tart does looking appealing although the purist in me finds a certain level of disdain for the open finish and going for the tart finish as opposed to the closed casing of the pie. I’m open to this being a subjective fault and coming down to personal preference, but there is something intriguing and appealing of taking a pie and discovering the inside as you bit down within, the crisp resistance of the pastry casing giving into the soft, rich mince meat flavors inside.
This mince tart was very tasty and an enjoyable treat. A common issue I have with commercial shop brought mince pies is the quality of the mince meat used which tends to have an almost overtly sweet sickly finish and leaves a nasty after taste on your palette. Often a single ready-made mince-pie is more than enough but this is often due to poor ingredients used, a good mince meat in addition to well cooked pastry make a welcome treat and this was definitely of the better made ones I’ve experienced. The pastry has a good snap to them, a good crisp finish that I was surprised to find but certainly had a good taste in itself. The mince meat nice, whether because they’ve used a source or supply beyond the normal mass-produced ingredients usually found it had a noticeably nicer finish and taste. The pastry star situated atop the mince meat almost creates the pie texture sensation, I personally wish it was the traditional finish of the pie instead of the pastry. But definitely a really good mince meat pastry, not sickly sweet, a great texture in the pastry quality, recommended.
Black Forest Hot Chocolate £3.35
I have no great predication or desire towards coffee, the multitude of options and choice lost on me in contrast to the welcoming and soothing effect of a good cup of tea or in this circumstance a well made hot chocolate. The Black Forest Chocolate on my first experience a couple of years back I found to be overtly sweet, perhaps an over eager barista had included too much syrup in my serving, regardless it was an almost unpleasant experience and one it took me a year or so before I could try it again to resolve that unanswered question on its quality and finish. Thankfully on my second occasion and now this year it is a welcomed treat that by necessity because of the sugar tax perhaps or a change to the syrup concentration has a less sweet finish resulting in a more moderated finish.
In comparison to the gateaux of its inspiration, itself a balance between the tartness of the maraschino cherries and the sweetness of the cream and chocolate, as a recipe and finish an already sweetened drink would always struggle to replicate the desired flavor one would hope to experience when consuming this drink. I long and desire for a well, complemented drink or beverage that matches with an elegance and perfection that sensation of consuming a sweet beverages with a tartness on my palette from the hints of the cherry. The inclusion of the dried, cherry flakes scattered on the surface, in addition to the syrup within goes someway to replicating, or perhaps approximating the flavors found within its namesake treat, the flake pieces themselves lost somewhat when experienced in a closed cup but more noticeable in a sit down serving. With certain restrictions or penalties on sugar levels within food or beverages there is a natural predication to reduce that found in part due to cost as well as for health and societal repercussions. Perhaps the unintended consequence therefore being the necessity to no longer overwhelm the patron with a punch of sweetness but this more grown up affair of marrying the two natural sensations on the taste buds and leaving a more enjoyable experience.
Turkey and Trimmings Sandwich £2.50
A Tesco sandwich, be they a festive treat or a normal workday lunch have to their credit a consistency in their presentation and quality. Of no great surprise is the decision to go with processed, formed meat, there certainly isn’t the flavour and texture of real sliced turkey with all the flavours and seasoning from the cooked meat. As such, to balance this the cost is one of the cheaper festive offerings but certainly not the worst in terms of quality. There is a nice supply of turkey slices and a generous amount of bacon included. There is no danger in confusing the average British sandwich for one of the gourmet deli offerings from New York but a sufficient amount to make you feel valued and satisfied in your purchase. In addition there is what I presume is a simulation of stuffing although again like their competitors this is of the powered variety and doesn’t taste anything like what you found find inside your roast bird at Christmas.
The inclusion of cranberry sauce was a nice touch, it adds a certain sweetness that is lacking somewhat in these turkey sandwiches. As a meat very easily it can become quite dry to consume, even the freshest slices and those found on a boxing day tend not hold a great deal of moisture but you always have the option to balance this off with a variety of condiments. In a pre packed sandwich, layers of turkey meat and bacon can be quite a dry experience so I do enjoy a good splash of cranberry and thankfully this was ever-present. My only issue I tend to have with Tesco sandwiches is the duration they are shelved and when the bread can be quite dry especially when they go for a granary bread. Thankfully on this occasion the bread was soft which made the overall experience a pleasant and satisfying. Quality wise, I was never expecting high quality meats or homemade stuffing and it didn’t disappoint. It was a nice sandwich, nothing more, nothing less.
Tiffin Snowflakes £1.58
There tends to be a choice between presentation and quality of the final product, some of the tastiest Christmas lunch items, besides the festive packaging no more indicative of the holiday season than their peers. With these festive treats and desserts the various chains have a chance to indulge in the opulence of the food, the sweetness from the chocolate never knowingly going to deliver a disappointing experience but certainly a memorable one is another consideration. For these small, sweet bites the portion size is spot on, yes they could be a little bigger or in a greater portion size but consistent with a fine truffle or chocolate selection you find in stores. The finish of course is its main attraction, formed in the traditional snowflake shape and given a dusting of silver food paint to create a snow esque finish atop the milk chocolate shell.
Best served chilled to give the chocolate a little more thickness there is a satisfying chew when biting into the tiffin, especially given the extra layer from the chocolate form snow flake on top of the dessert. The chocolate is lovely and rich without being to sweet, a stark contrast to the almost sickly sweet snowy road bites from Greggs. Its amazing Tesco are able to provide a bite of this size and for this price that manages to balance the sweetness without overloading you with sugar. The fruit content is naturally sweet served in just the right quantity without overloading you with conflicting tastes, the crunch of the biscuit pieces balancing between the chew of the chocolate and fruit, a lovely sensation in your mouth. If I have to find fault perhaps the slightly messy effect from the silver dusting on the surface once you’ve held them even momentarily, and of course the ‘happy’ criticism once you’ve finished them you do have the lingering wish to enjoy just another. A great little treat, worthy of the finest name and served in the right moderation and portion size.
Turkey, bacon and Cranberry Roll £1.00
There is a familiarity and comfort from the humble sausage roll, a savoury snack that has confused those on distant shores to its composition and delivery. I had certain hopes and expectations this was only had a festive element to that experience but unfortunately, for me at least it just didn’t deliver in any appreciable way. It has the texture and consistency of a normal sausage roll if not slightly more dense compared to the usual pork meat used. You do have the sense you are consuming a higher meat ratio than normally used and certainly the addition of the cranberries creates a different textural experience compared to other festive snaps. From the conflicting crispy and soggy pastry, the thick chewy meat and the slight pop of the cranberries there are tones of a well crafted snack.
Unfortunately, and whether this was just the roll I ate or by design there just isn’t a great deal of taste of any flavour. The danger with making a turkey based product is as a meat there isn’t a great deal of flavour that naturally occurs in contrast to the saltiness of pork for example. A dense, thick wedge of turkey doesn’t have a huge level of flavour creating the sensation of eating a dense wedge of meat. The bacon does add a hint of saltiness but is largely subdued by the turkey. The cranberries likewise give a hint of tartness but cannot on their own merits overcome the strength of the meats which unfortunately because of the reduction in the pork meat just leaves a feeling of a very, very bland snack. In the absence of stuffing or an additional sauce within, a very unsatisfactory snack.
Festive bake £1.50
There is a level of redemption from the unpleasant, tasteless experience that was the festive roll and that is the festive bake. Not known for their traditional baking practise or service, Greggs still manage to produce a consistently appetising pastry slice throughout the year which given your personal preference does act as an enjoyable treat. The festive bake in the winter months has the same flavours and taste on a consistent regular basis. Perhaps lacking somewhat in a variance of texture it does still have the crunch, depending on the baking time of the golden pastry before giving into the sauce within and the variety of meats included. My criticism of the festive bake is in contrast to the other regular bakes they do sometimes feeling lacking somewhat in content within, the sauce is a little less, the meat lacking. Whether this is a subjective criticism or just generally a reduced level of content I do always find a higher pastry to content ratio.
As for flavour, a key fault I had with the festive roll in contrast to this there is a great level of flavour for better or worse. The inclusion of the herby stuffing is present, every mouth always a hint of herb nestled somewhere within the ingredients. The meat is there, not to the same quality or texture of Costa in its festive toastie but there is a cheaper more instant snack so I wasn’t expecting great things. A variety of meats, turkey and bacon swimming in a gravy although perhaps this could have done with a little more flavour. There is a hint of sweetness from cranberries but this is lost in the gravy included. My issue with other festive food has always been the lack of texture and in contrast, despite its relatively cheap price this is present. You don’t feel you come away having consumed an especially healthy snack, the meat having the flavour and consistency of a fast food chain but it is a familiar treat.
Snowy Road £1.00
A festive treat is a time of opulence and overindulgence, a sweet sensation to consume that is never overwhelming or too much. In these four small bites, I just wasn’t filled with the festive cheer. A variation of rocky road pieces opting for a white chocolate finish in contrast to the traditional milk chocolate it uses the same approach of packing in a great deal of ingredients to create that uneven and opulent texture. The white chocolate finish does induce certain recognition of a snowy road so much as it has a white uneven finish but taken on their merits alone it just wasn’t a nice experience for one very simple reason, a huge overabundance in sweetness.
The clever thing about a rocky road bite traditionally is the variance in flavours and textures when eating a morsel or slice of cake whichever is your fancy. The crunch of the biscuit crumb, the thickness of the chocolate, the soft marshmallow within. On occasion the pop of the cherry pieces and the tart hit of fruit on your palate contrasting beautifully with the sweet chocolate taste. Here, for whatever reason it was just an overwhelming level of sugar and sweetness, no long-lasting memories or pleasure obtained besides a feeling you have eaten a week’s worth of sugar in a morsel of food without any of the residual feelings of satisfaction. The way it is priced and sold would suggest a personal snack, perhaps they are designed for sharing however as a treat for one, it was too much sugar, to little flavour, and not a great way to finish a festive lunch.
Christmas Lunch Baguette £4.25
My main contention with sandwiches I’ve eaten during this festive period has been primarily based on two factors, the quality of the meat and the levels of sauce included to negate the dryness of the meat. Turkey, by and large is a very bland meat that overcooked can leave a dry sensation when consuming. This is often negated by the inclusion of sauces during the main Christmas meal, cranberry sauce or even a nice thick gravy for example but in a mass produced sandwich where cost limitations prohibit this to some degree what I’ve tend to experience certainly with more processed meats is the inclusion of water and other substances you find injected or included in mass produced processed meats. Thankfully, certain stores and chains have opted for higher quality meats and products, and to me relief Pret has emerged as a contender for one of the better almost more traditional Christmas sandwich option with its Christmas Lunch baguette, a great ratio of meat and greenery contrasted with an ample supply of various sauces resulting in a delicious, complex taste sensation with a variety of nuanced textures and flavours on your tongue.
The issue I’ve held with other baguettes is the ratio of bread to meat that tends to be a little unbalanced. On this occasion this was not the case, the baguette wasn’t to thick so your overall sensation of biting through, and the initial crunch was short lived giving into the meat within. The turkey didn’t necessarily have the same quality as that found in the Costa toastie but it was still a decent enough meat. The stuffing was plentiful and formed into actual stuffing balls. I’ve still yet to find proper, hand made stuffing consisting of a variety of ingredients and textures but in the absence of real stuffing this was a good, herb alternative. The addition and use of cranberry and orange sauce as well as a mayonnaise base worked really well giving a creamy yet savoury flavour that contrasted with the herb of the stuffing and the slight saltiness of the meat. And then the addition of the spinach leaves giving a slightly different flavour contrast. Overall, given the range of ingredients and some of the misfortune from other sandwiches there was the chance this was going to be to much with no real texture change or flavours to distinguish from. Thankfully, this was one of the better Christmas sandwiches I’ve eaten during this festive period and easily sets the marker for other chains and brands to compete with.
Christmas Tiffin £1.60
Turkey Feast Panini £4.25
A fairly substantial panini, quite similar in content and style as the Costa version of the same sandwich. A panini given its structure and substance does require a high level of filling or alternatively a thinner crust or else you arrive feeling and with the overwhelming sensation of having consumer a substantial amount of bread and dough in contrast to the desired memory of delicious festive meats and sauces. The meat consistency and texture is in keeping with the Costa offerings a lot more real tasting both in taste and quality, with both the benefits and flaws associated. The bacon for example in my panini had the consistency and texture of a real piece of bacon with a slight crispiness on the end where it hung out but softer in the inside where it was protected by the thickness of the dough. Compared to the seemingly uniform finish of bacon pieces in other sandwiches, its a small tell when you consume a bacon sandwich on a quality hand cooked finish compared to a batch cooked piece.
The turkey meat within felt natural and whole, not the greatest quality perhaps but lacking that smooth strange feel of a formed process piece of meat found in other Christmas sandwiches. The inclusion of the sausage again with its imperfections but greater taste was a nice inclusion within. The cranberry sauce gives a interesting contrast and my main issue I’ve experienced with other festive sandwiches, the lack of texture certainly isn’t an issue with the crunch of the panini acting nicely to the softness of the meat, the chew of the sausage and the sauce within. Sadly, its main fault is found in the cheese used to melt and bind the panini together. The cheese is quite simply, overwhelming in its inclusion and more importantly its taste. Whatever contrasting flavours that would have occurred are lost in the pool of cheese, drowned out and ultimately leaving a panini where you come away with the almost bland taste of cheese and meat compared to the rich various flavours of Christmas you would hope for. Great textures, disappointing flavours.