Once again, the Christmas sandwiches have been released onto the shelves. This time, we've thrown out the worst of last year's contenders (mostly the coffee shops) and tasted the whole range from seven of the big players, choosing the best and worst sandwiches from each.
The best: Festive Full Works (£3.95)
This is a classic example of the Christmas sandwich genre, containing the usual meats (turkey, pork stuffing, ham) alongside the ubiquitous cranberry sauce, mayo and spinach. All Christmas sandwiches must now contain spinach — the dark green is just so much more festive than lettuce. Despite the lack of imagination, this shows a vast improvement on last year.
The worst: A joint award for the Veggie Festive Bloomer (£3.75) and Christmas Cheeseboard Bloomer (£3.96).
The veggie festive bloomer is an abomination. Filled with mushrooms, chestnut and walnut stuffing, roast spiced carrot ribbons, cranberry, roasted spiced parsnip puree and (naturally) spinach, it is the worst kind of old school hippy vegetarian food. It is a bad nut roast. It is Neil from The Young Ones stirring a pot of lentils. The chestnut pieces are way too large and look, unnervingly, like chopped brains. Whoever thought it was a good idea to put parsnip in a sandwich should be made to eat it that way, forever. A disaster.
The Christmas Cheeseboard Bloomer is filled with wensleydale, lemon, black pepper, mature cheddar, slow roast figs, and (the painfully twee) 'figgy pudding chutney' but you’ll wish it wasn't. The whole thing has a sour, rancid flavour; the cheddar is curled at the edges and the cream cheese is way too sour. The figs are bitty, crunchy and unpleasant. In recipe terms, this is a total dud.
The worst: Subway Festive Feast (£4 for a 6 inch sub).
Subway, mercifully, only serves one Christmas sandwich. It is their first attempt and we hope it will be their last. Inside one of their usual subs you'll find turkey ham, sausage, bacon, green peppers, cucumber and onion. Yes, those summer vegetables were horrid with the sausage, thanks for asking. Oh and about that — it's one of the worst sausages ever to grace a sandwich and we wouldn't be surprised to find the words 'mechanically reclaimed' in the ingredients. The neon cranberry sauce looks like industrial cleaning fluid. Many waves of wrong.
The best: Christmas Turkey, Stuffing and Bacon Sandwich (£3.20)
We say 'best' but this is relatively speaking because the Christmas sandwich range at Waitrose is having a bad year. This contains turkey, bacon, pork and chestnut stuffing, port and orange chutney, spinach, mayo and cranberry and although the stuffing is nice, the orange in the chutney overwhelms and jars. Overall it's dry, tastes stale and leaves a nasty greasy mouthfeel.
The worst: Christmas Steak and Stilton Sandwich (£3.95)
This sounded good on paper, and we were pleased to see they'd used the crispy onions idea, something that worked so well for Pret. The thing is, Pret make their sandwiches fresh every day, so the onions stay crisp; Waitrose obviously can't do this so have provided the onions on the side in a little bag, to sprinkle inside yourself. The problem is that they overwhelm everything in this sandwich and the result is something so horrible we're scrambling for water. In theory, this sandwich should work but it doesn't — there are too many strong flavours coming together and the result is like a house party that's slipped out of control; someone's house got trashed and the police turned up. Run away.
We were only able to source one Christmas sandwich from Paul: Dinde de Noel (£4.50) although there is also a cheese and caramelised onion toastie in the festive range.
The fillings here are turkey, sage, bacon, spinach, cream cheese and horseradish sauce on an onion and cranberry baguette. The bread is dry and chewy, which sadly isn't anything new for Paul. It's such hard work it feels like something which should be dished out on prescription. There's an unnerving tanginess coming from somewhere too, maybe the cream cheese. Overall it feels sad, like something that could've been sitting under glass in a train station for a couple of days. Oh.
M & S
The best: Venison & Sour Cherry Chutney (£4.50)
Things get off to a good start aesthetically — we like the toasted effect of the bread, and the lean strips of venison look mighty tasty. Guess what, they ARE mighty tasty, while that sour cherry chutney we were skeptical about actually partners the meat rather well. It's a bold choice for a festive sandwich, but pays off. What we DON'T get is the coleslaw, which M&S seems to have bunged into half their Christmas range. No need, guys, no need.
The worst: Beef Wellington (price unknown)
Usually reserved for the kind of families who 'don't do turkey', beef wellington finds its way into an M&S sandwich this year. And my, my, they've made a manky old job of it. The beef is the best part; not medium rare as we like it, but not chewy and very edible. Alas, the mushrooms are relegated to a sage-heavy pate, and the greens (as is often the case) are just there for colour. The strange creamy substance on the bottom made us want to vom.
The best: Turkey Feast (£2.30)
Inside is turkey, spinach, cranberry and port sauce, pork and chestnut stuffing, bacon and mayo. It's fine, but unremarkable. A textbook example of a high street Christmas sandwich — all ingredients present and correct, a bit sweet, a bit malty, lots of mayo. There's nothing to swing things one way or the other.
The worst: Turkey with Pigs Under Blankets (£2.30)
Inside malted bread there is turkey, sausage, bacon, mayo and cranberry sauce. This looks quite nice at first with a lovely deep fill but oh, that sausage. It is oddly sweet and tastes overall, very cheap. It's festive like a really drunk, slightly lecherous uncle in a Christmas jumper.
The best: Ham Hock, Stuffing and Apple Baguette (£3.99)
Pret don't stint on the ham here — crumbly and flavoursome, it goes nicely with the crusty stone-baked baguette. As for the condiments: you can taste more mustard than apple and stuffing, but for us that's not a problem — we're keen on the yellow stuff. Those lovely crispy onions that Pret do so well add a nice dimension, and in rare greenery news, the watercress actually adds something more than colour Here's a great alternative to the classic Pret Christmas sandwich which, to be honest, we're over now.
The worst: Veggie Christmas Lunch (£3.25)
You might think it's unfair to lay into the veggie offering, but we would point out this was tasted by one of our in-house veggies. (and they also said Pret's baguette veggie offering was better). As for this sandwich, it's guilty of being overstuffed with greens which, far from harmless, detracts from what else is going on between the bread. Cold butternut squash is an acquired taste at any time of the year, and, very much like a Christmas Day with too much sherry, everything gets a bit messy.