It’s hard to say when exactly Christmas food specials became a Thing, but in this unbelievable year of 2016, they well and truly are.
Practically every restaurant, coffee shop and bar now offers up some kind of festive food or drink, knowing that punters will literally eat them up.
But how do you know on which ones it’s worth spending your hard-earned money? It’s an expensive time of year, so thankfully the fine British fast food scene has gone to town on its Christmas specials.
And in the name of serving the public interest, I decided to try one of the festive dishes from six of the biggest fast food chains in the UK to find out which is best.
Oh, and eat them all one straight after another, purely to make things extra challenging.
Deliberately absolutely starving, I set off with a rumbling tummy to begin my Christmas fast food crawl in central London.
First up, McDonald’s.
Thanks to what I assume is a hefty advertising budget, most of us have seen the adverts for the McDonald’s Christmas burgers this year - and they look pretty good don’t they?
I ordered the Festive Cheese Feast, but perhaps unsurprisingly, it looked nothing like the picture. It looked pretty sad actually, like someone had trodden on the one from the advert.
Supposedly consisting of a beef burger with cheese, smoked bacon, cheese sauce, seasoned grilled onions, tomato ketchup and lettuce in a toasted bun, it tasted, well, like a McDonald’s burger. Not bad, just classic McDonald’s flavour.
I liked the onion, but I’m not sure where the supposed bacon was hiding and the cheese had a suspiciously non-cheese-like texture. What’s more, absolutely nothing about the burger seemed festive to me.
Whilst not unpleasant, it was a little disappointing.
Calories: 773 calories
It was prime lunchtime so I joined a long queue of people waiting for their midday sub - no one else was ordering it, but it was the Festive Feast I was after.
The meaty sub is made up of turkey, bacon and sausage with cranberry sauce, plus optional cheese and the salad, extra sauces, and bread of your choice - I went for cheese (duhh), lettuce, cucumber, sweetcorn, sweet onion sauce and honey oat bread, because oats are healthy and I am clearly a very health-conscious person.
Despite still feeling like I had plenty of room for food, I was conscious of the fact that I had four further meals ahead of me so I opted for the six-inch sub rather than the foot-long.
Maybe it’s my own fault for adding sweet onion sauce (I just didn’t want a dry sandwich, you understand), but the cranberry flavour was indeterminable and thus it didn’t feel overly festive to me.
The sandwich was, however, surprisingly tasty. I liked the chunky sausage (get your mind out of the gutter, please) and the salad was fresh.
Calories: 508 calories
With a handful of different festive offerings on the menu, I was spoilt for choice at Greggs - like a kid in a candy store, or a food-loving journalist on a Christmas food challenge. I was going strong and practically thriving two meals down.
Knowing I was going to be eating a fair few burgers and sandwiches, I was most intrigued by the Christmas lunch soup. For better or worse though (we shall never know), it had run out, so I resorted to the ‘famous’ festive bake.
Warm puff pastry filled with chicken breast, sage and onion stuffing and bacon in a creamy sage and cranberry sauce, it sounded like it was going to taste pretty Christmassy.
Channelling my inner Mary Berry, I inspected the underside of the pastry - alas, a dreaded soggy bottom. On top, however, the pastry was golden, crisp and flaky. I think Paul would approve.
Whilst the filling was pretty mushy, the flavour was bloomin’ delicious - it exceeded my expectations and was definitely the most festive so far.
I was halfway through my challenge and thoroughly full by this point. But I had a Colonel’s Christmas Box Meal with my name on just a few doors down the street so I gathered my strength and headed into KFC.
This is an excessively large meal consisting of the Colonel’s Christmas burger, fries, a side of your choosing, a piece of chicken and a drink.
The burger itself is quite tasty and seemed pretty festive - in a toasted (perhaps overly so) bun, there was a chicken fillet, hashbrown, cranberry sauce and sage and onion stuffing mayo.
The cranberry sauce, however, looked suspiciously like it had never been anywhere near an actual cranberry.
At 1272 calories, this is not a meal for the fainthearted. It is perhaps one for the hungover.
Sadly, I had little time to digest my chicken box as it wasn’t far to the next stop: Burger King. I was feeling it, but I pushed on.
The thing about Burger King’s seasonal menu is that it is not even remotely Christmassy - it’s all about cheese. And whilst I get that cheese is often consumed at this time of year, it’s not exactly a food most of us associate with yuletide.
Anyway, I optimistically ordered the Cheddar Whopper and some Nacho Cheddar Bites (I wasn’t going to skip a side order when I’d come this far now, was I?), donned a cardboard crown and sat myself down.
My initial reaction upon opening up my burger: why on earth is the bun orange? And not just any old orange, but an extremely artificial, almost radioactive orange. Most suspicious.
Inside the bizarrely bright bun was a quarter-pounder beef patty, a four-cheese ‘patty’, cheddar, tomato, lettuce and even cheddar sauce, just in case you hadn’t had enough.
The reason the bun is orange is it is supposedly infused with cheddar, but I couldn’t taste it at all.
The whole thing was super squishy and soggy, and it tasted artificial and just plain weird. It is rare I eat things I actively dislike, but I did not like the Cheddar Whopper. Also, FIVE POUNDS!? Obscene.
And as for the nacho cheddar bites, well they were bizarre too, with the strangest squishy texture.
All in all, Burger King’s offering was easily the one that would most quickly induce a heart attack - I could almost feel it clogging my arteries - and without a doubt my least favourite so far. I’ll admit it: I left half. Sorry not sorry.
Price: £4.99 for the Cheddar Whopper, £1.99 for four nacho cheddar bites
Calories: 985 for the burger, 257 for four bites
I’d made it to my sixth and final lunch and fatigue was setting in - it’s exhausting work, eating. I wasn’t going to, ahem, chicken out though.
This is the first time Nando’s have created a Christmas burger and I had high hopes. The Peri-Berry burger combines chicken breast fillet and boneless chicken thigh in a roll with baby spinach and so-called Peri-Berry chutney.
Reader, I really enjoyed it, even after five lunches. And I must say, eating off a plate felt like the biggest of luxuries.
The bread roll was delicious, successfully finding the right balance between soft and crusty. It also made a nice change to all the soggy burger buns I’d eaten.
Having two pieces of chicken could perhaps be considered excessive, but some would argue Christmas is a time for excess, and it was well-cooked.
What’s more, it actually tasted festive! This was largely, I believe, down to the Peri-Berry chutney which not only appeared to have actual berries in but was SPARKLY! And what says Christmas like sparkle? Nothing, that’s what.
The red chutney and green spinach created a distinctly Christmassy look, and the mayo kept it all from being dry too. Despite everything I’d eaten, I enjoyed it so much that I finished it.
I was less convinced, however, by the Peri-Orange wings I’d ordered on the side - they’re classic Nando’s wings covered in a sweet, sticky, orange sauce. I found the orange flavour a touch overwhelming and was generally a bit meh about the wings.
Price: £8.75 for the burger, £3.50 for three wings
Calories: 558 for the burger, 340 for the wings
It had been quite the lunch, but is any meal complete without pudding? I think not. So I picked up McDonald’s seasonal Terry’s Chocolate Orange McFlurry to munch whilst mulling over everything I’d eaten.
The winner (Nando’s) and loser (Burger King) were clear in my mind, whilst the other four all floated around a similar area.
I was proud of myself for completing my feat of endurance, if feeling highly in need of a lie down. It wasn’t until an hour or so later that I realised my heart was beating at an abnormally fast rate and I may be having palpitations.
Still, if it helps you pick your lunch this Christmas, those 5,500 calories were all worth it.
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