Christmas Menu Trends 2023: Three innovation thought-starters for 2024/25 product development

With Christmas 2023 fast approaching, Insights Lab spotlights three festive innovation areas ripe for the plundering as top UK restaurants unleash their seasonal menus
Christmas restaurant food
As Christmas dishes go in the UK, traditional options fairly rule the roost, with the likes of pigs in blankets, honey-glazed hams, beef wellingtons, crispy roast potatoes, all things turkey, and (if you're a fan) Brussels sprouts among the classic big-hitters headlining the show every year.

It goes without saying that these festive food staples are very much here to stay, much like how chocolate eggs are synonymous with Easter. But for chefs and developers looking to stand out during the Christmas season, the above is often just the tip of the iceberg.

This is very much the case for the food retail giants every year, with alternative Christmas showstoppers to dovetail the classics once again seen to be a feature across the board when ranges dropped way back in the summer.
Tesco, for example, is going big for duck in 2023, with pigs in blankets finding a new home atop rich steak & gravy pies.

Elsewhere, Marks & Spencer is firing out Pulled Beef & Potato Rosti Towers; Sainsbury's is unleashing a Slow Cooked Beef Short Rib with Bone Marrow Jus; Asda is rolling out Sundried Tomato Stuffed Monkfish Wrapped in Prosciutto; and Waitrose is letting fly with Smoked Salmon Éclairs.

Again, that's the tip of the iceberg of what's arriving. And, as is the case with every seasonal food opportunity, from the aforementioned Easter to Halloween; there can be no rest for food development teams once seasonal ranges have had sign off, with early-stage inspiration for Christmas seasons yet to come already well under way.

For Christmas 2023, Sainsbury's are launching British chicken breast chunks coated in either ‘nice’ southern fried breading or ‘naughty’ charcoal (salt & chilli) – all drizzled with spiced blossom honey sauce.
Christmas-centric dishes within hospitality always play a big role in retail ideation phases, with restaurants up and down the UK now revealing their respective festive menus.

Here at Insights Lab, we've been pouring over festive restaurant menus for 2024/25 product inspiration, pulling concepts and combinations from the best and brightest to produce a comprehensive, market-first report for food professionals looking to get ahead on next year.

And for our latest free deep-dive, we've highlighted three of the many interest areas available in the full report, spotlighting a number of chef innovators, with party food flourishes, seasonal sauce spins, and creative Christmas comfort all on the menu.
Christmas 2023:
UK Restaurant Menu Trends
199 (+ VAT)

What to expect:

  • Discover the key formats, cuisines, ingredients, styles and flavour combinations being harnessed by UK chefs for 2023 festive offerings beyond the norm
  • Explore 10 comprehensive topics featuring over 100 festive dish examples (with clickable links), from snacks and starters through to desserts and cocktails
  • Gain a thorough understanding of new and existing festive food trend trajectories
  • Absorb targeted recommendations from our trend specialists for 2024/25 Christmas NPD and menu development

What's included:

  • A 25-page, fully-linked PDF report

Available on request:

  • A 17-page PowerPoint presentation
  • A 15-minute video walkthrough

Perfecting Party Food
The chicken liver parfait maritozzi by East London's OMBRA, showcased in January and clearly inspiration for the Italian restaurant's Christmas version, with liver parfait and fruit jelly.
While the ongoing cost-of-living crisis is sure to rage on through the winter period, pushing consumers to think twice before shelling out for second rounds; Christmas parties are sure to go ahead all over the country, with festive snacks, bites, nibbles and sharing platters launching with aplomb to cater for myriad merrymakers.

And while the likes of caviar and oysters may not be on the party food shopping list for the vast majority of cash-conscious consumers, not just this year but also potentially Christmas 2024; food brands are continuing to bank on touches of recognisable luxury to seal the deal without breaking banks, with the likes of smoked salmon, parfait/pâté, and baked Camembert sharers again common across restaurants and retail.

Format and flavour inspiration for Christmas party food development can be found on a number of pioneering restaurants' snack sections which, as discussed in our recent UK snacking deep-dive, are now becoming hotbeds for culinary innovation.

Festive snacking iterations do not disappoint, with classic Christmas decadence and comfort slipping effortlessly into the mix as lines blur between canapé and bar snack.

Take Medjool dates wrapped in smoked bacon, baked with smoked garlic honey, found at The White Horse in Cheshire; liver parfait and fruit jelly mini-maritozzi at OMBRA in Hackney; tiger prawns with 'nduja butter and chimichurri at Firebird in Soho; and spiced steak tartare shells at The Black Friar in Manchester.

Seasonal Sauce Spins
Acme Fire Cult's Italian-style cranberry agrodolce will be served as a vegetarian small plate with shaved pumpkin, squash hummus and pecans (image: apricosa)
From terrifically-tart cranberry sauce to smooth turkey gravy, Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without the vast array of jellies, chutneys and succulent sauces synonymous with the festive season.

The thing is about Christmas-centric condiments is that they're fairly timeless. And some only really come around for consumers once a year, such as the aforementioned fresh turkey gravy (which, for many, can't really be beaten).

For chefs and developers, simple spins to upgrade the classics is usually a good way to go, with London live-fire restaurant Acme Fire Cult's cranberry agrodolce - a vinegar-meets-fruit, sour-sweet affair - a great example of considered Christmas innovation, elevating the classic cranberry sauce to more than just the obvious.

And while perhaps not as 'traditional' as your turkeys, hams, wellingtons and nut roasts, fish is always part of the Christmas equation, not least for both pescatarians and flexitarians, with salmon in particular flying the flag.

You could say there's more wiggle room for sauce innovation with seafood around Christmas, seeing as there isn't a defining festive option, with Kentish gastropub The Dog at Wingham's smoked mussels sauce for its festive baked lemon sole dish catching our eye.

Then there's making traditional Christmas trimmings more 'saucy', such as Borough Market spot Roast's Brussels sprouts ragout, which will be found on the restaurant's hero roast turkey dinner, with a smoked bone marrow sauce incidently found atop its festive sauce section.
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Decadent Christmas Creations
The Black Pig's 'Sleigher 2.0' Christmas Sarnie
'Tis the season for culinary extravagance, with innovators not dropping the ball this year on pure, comforting, Christmas decadence.

Sandwiches live long in the memory these days, with The Black Pig's (Borough Market) showstopping Christmas iteration now stealing the limelight on socials.

We're talking confit leek mayo, braised spiced red cabbage, slow-roast pork shoulder, smoked turkey, cranberry & orange sauce, and a pecan, sage & onion crumble.

Yes, it's all in one sandwich. A toasted ciabatta, to be precise. And the best part about it? Christmas gravy French dip.

Decadence is also one for the dining room, with chefs this year delivering powerful statement dishes to take festivities up a few notches. Take 10 Greek Street and its highland wing rib with confit potatoes, portabello mushrooms, Stilton, shallots, kale and whiskey.

And then, of course, there's dessert. How about a sticky date Christmas pudding with miso caramel sauce and clotted cream ice cream courtesy of Freemasons at Wiswell in Clitheroe?

Or perhaps an espresso martini chocolate yule log with pear sorbet, sweet and sour blackcurrants, and chestnut Chantilly cream at The Waggon Inn in Oldham.
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