Almost time for the work Christmas party. What do you mean you haven’t booked it yet?!
Cardiff. Late November. You’re sat at your desk during the dreaded 3pm slump scrolling through furious WalesOnline comments about the new Christmas tree. It’s dark and freezing and you can’t wait to go home and veg out in front of Westworld. And that’s when it hits you.
In a fit of drunken largesse at Dave’s leaving drinks last month, you agreed to organise the Christmas do this year.
First of all – and this has to be said – you’re a damn fool. Organising the Christmas do is the most thankless task since the building of the Great Pyramids of Giza, and arguably just as likely to result in mass fatalities.
This is because the traditional work Christmas do is utterly, screamingly, horrendous.
Chances are, no-one in your workplace actually likes food (or themselves) so you’ll end up press-ganged into some soulless chain place masquerading as an Italian restaurant. The sort of joint that would make an actual Italian burst indignantly into sweary, sharply-dressed flames.
Wherever you end up (it’s going to be sodding Prezzo again isn’t it?), they will have squeezed an extra two dozen tables in the corridor next to the toilets and worked their grossly underpaid staff so hard that when you ask for a glass of tap water they respond in the manner of a surly New Jersey dock worker who’s Mum you’ve just insulted.
The food itself will be okish, if a bit expensive – you might even get a glass of gum-tighteningly nasty prosecco if you paid the £3 extra – but the overall experience will probably be as pleasurable as a CIA extraordinary rendition, albeit with added pigs in blankets.
The bill is the absolute nadir of the evening. One Christmas do a few years back I actually went and hid in the toilet after deliberately overpaying so I wouldn’t have to deal with all the nitpicking. Everyone’s inevitably a bit pissed at this point, so the calculation process takes on the character of a dozen chimps trying to find the 219th digit of Pi using nothing but an abacus and a pile of their own feces.
And there’s always that one tight git who doesn’t believe in tipping because he saw Reservoir Dogs once (yes, it’s always a ‘he’), despite the fact that the waitress had to list the ingredients of every dish on the menu four times for that other person who can’t decide whether or not they’re a vegan today.
But y’know what? It doesn’t have to be like this. To (extremely) loosely paraphrase Morpheus off of the Matrix, What if I Told You that you could have a really nice Christmas do in Cardiff this year? You just need to think outside the festively wrapped box a bit. Here are four picks for an alternative Christmas feed in 2016…
1. Chai Street
First of all, let’s get this straight; there’s absolutely no point in having anything resembling a traditional Christmas Dinner on your work do. It’ll inevitably be disappointing (no two humans will ever agree on what makes the perfect roastie) and will only take the shine off the real deal when the big day comes. Even better, if you can avoid places that have a dedicated Christmas menu altogether you’ll be quids in.
I say throw caution to the wind and go somewhere like Chai Street.
Mint and Mustard‘s edgier, punkier little brother opened a new branch on St Mary Street earlier this month, and the new venue makes it a much less intimidating prospect for more timid non-Cardiffian workmates than a trek to the original restaurant in Canton.
The menu is more of the same – a massive array of South Asian streetfood style goodies, from flaky, buttery paratha rolls to generous thali plates with a wee bit of everything included. At about £15 a head for thali and a starter you’re already ahead of the Christmas menu pricing game. Better still, they now take bookings too, so you won’t have to rely on having been a good boy/girl all year to secure a table.
And, as the hand painted sign on the wall says, do your mouth a favour; for god’s sake order the Chicken 65. This deep fried starter hits you with pretty much every positive flavour sensation you’ve ever had all at once – hot, sweet, sour, spicy – all dialled up to eleven. Think that trippy bit in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but for your tongue.
They’ve even got their own beer – a respectable if slightly over-sweet IPA from Brecon Brewing that comes into it’s own when put up against a bit of spice.
2. Dusty Knuckle
I know, I know, “he’s always banging on about them”. But y’know what? As soon as Dusty Knuckle start being crap, I’ll stop writing about them. Until then, you’re going to have to lump it, because their Christmas menu is ACE this year.
Interestingly, it’s also one of the best choices for veggies this Christmas. It’s killer, right from the starter – warming aubergine stew topped with candied jalapenos and served with dried laverbread-sprinkled flatbread – to pizzas with unlikely but ingenious toppings like sauerkraut, leek and blue cheese, squash goats cheese and chestnut. None of that nut-roast nonsense over here thank you very much.
Carnivores – do not despair; there are some epic meat pizzas on offer too, featuring proper world-class bresaola and nduja.
Throw in a banging beer selection from local heroes like Crafty Devil and new kids on the block Roath Brewery (their No.3 Tram is tidy) and you’re onto a festive winner. Rumour has it there’ll be a bit of mulled cider in the mix soon too.
You can even have sprouts, if you’re so inclined – albeit in the form of a hot and sour kimchi side dish. Maybe don’t have too much of it if you want keep it sociable though, if you get my drift…
Phil and co have also been hard at work on making their outdoor space at the Printhaus slightly less outdoors-y for the season, with a new canopy and heaters, but I’d still recommend you get your thermals on if you’re planning on a Dusty Christmas. Trust me, though – it’s absolutely worth it, especially at £19.95 per head for a decent portion of everything on the menu.
3. Meat and Greek
Now this one is guesswork, as they’re not open until this weekend, but if their previous output is any indication, Meat and Greek‘s pop-up taverna at the Corys Building in the Bay is going to be a right treat.
I ate my bodyweight in their spectacular souvlaki back when they were at Streetfood Circus in the summer, and I’m not the only one – the queue rivalled that of the returns desk at Primark the day after Boxing Day.
It’s not hard to see why – juicy, heavily seasoned meat sizzled to tender perfection over white-hot coals, served with all the trimmings (most importantly halloumi, the answer to all life’s questions) is always going to be good. It’s sturdy unpretentious grub that you’d have to work incredibly hard not to enjoy – even the curmudgeonly old sod from finance who ‘doesn’t like foreign food’ can always just forego the tzatziki and home-made hummus and have it plain if they like.
If you’ve got any sense you’ll get a table booked sharpish, as it’s likely to be busier than Santa’s workshop the night before Black Friday.
4. Small Bar
Hipster with a small ‘h’, feel safe in the knowledge that you can visit Small Bar without the need to grow a beard or indeed have any idea about craft beer.
Inevitably somebody in your group will moan that they don’t do ‘proper beer, like Fosters’. As it’s the season of goodwill, rather than breaking a bar stool over their head, just nudge them gently towards the lager section – the staff are ace, and more than happy to dole out tasters until your colleagues decide on a tipple, no matter how fussy they might be.
The beer list is never quite the same twice, and ranges from inoffensive but tasty pilsner-y things to balls-out weirdness – see their appropriately named ‘Crazy Shit’ section. If you absolutely MUST eat something (god, you’re so boring) they do various bready gubbins like pizza and flatbreads. I admit I’ve not partaken yet, but if they care as much about the grub as the beer selection they’ll be absolutely grand.
It’s a lovely cosy space too, all unfinished wood and candles – perfect for warming up on a cold dark night with a ludicrously high ABV coffee stout or two.
So there you have it. Four alternative options to make your Christmas do just that little bit more bearable. I can’t do anything about the itchy paper hats or Julie from accounts getting smashed on Malibu and chundering all over your best coat, but at least you’ll be somewhere nice.
Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day or couldn’t give a figgy pudding about party season? Let me know in the comments or over on Twitter at @fuudblog…