As Sir Cliff Richard once sang, Christmas is a time for giving, and there is no better present than the annual swathe of novelty menu items from our friends in the fast food industry. As the nights start to draw in, you can rely on bus stops across the country suddenly getting splashed with glistening pictures of these offerings, which only seem to get increasingly tenuous and bizarre with every passing year.
This year, rather than spending the month-long run up to Christmas consistently eating myself into a carbohydrate-induced coma, I decided to condense the fun into a single day. What could be more festive than that?
To keep it interesting, I donated a penny for charity for every calorie of delightfully stodgy themed food I could consume over the course of a single day. And as it’s Christmas, I’ll be rating each outlet’s offerings using the “Five Gold Rings” carol scale, made famous during the frankly ludicrous 12-day stretch of gift giving from one lover to another.
Greggs’s Festive Bake, Vegan Festive Bake and Mint Mocha
Britain’s favourite pasty institution has been leading the way on affordable vegan grub this year, and they’ve continued that theme this Christmas, dropping a new vegan version of the seminal Festive Bake.
Eaten in isolation – much like its other vegan cousins – the mystery mush within the VFB is genuinely passable, with thyme doing a lot of heavy lifting and special guests in the form of miniature Stuffing Balls (Greggs’s words, not mine) adding intrigue as they burst on the palate.
But the meaty festive bake is still far superior, tasting like an entire Christmas dinner encased in pastry. If you’ve ever had it, I probably don’t need to tell you how good it is. I washed both bakes down with the Mint Mocha, and looked down at my empty plate. I felt like I’d just been forced to sink a 9AM Jagerbomb on a day-long pub crawl by a group of men I only just realised I detested – there was a long ride ahead of me, but there was no turning back now. My body was filled only with pastry, and I had to press on.
Verdict: 3.5/5 gold rings
McDonalds’ Festive Stack, Festive Crispy Chicken, Cheese Melt Dippers and Festive Pie
It’s widely accepted that the Golden Arches’ usual efforts at limited edition burgers are usually a bit lazy – standard burgers in a dry bun, with a sprinkling of raw red onions and BBQ sauce inside in a half-baked attempt to be premium. Nothing ever actually tops the Big Mac (fight me in the car park if you disagree).
However, Maccies’s have attempted to put a little more thought into this year’s offering with two original numbers: The Festive Stack is the beef burger with a red onion relish and a cheese sauce that gives a joyous tinge to the whole thing. And, crucially, the bun isn’t dry.
The chicken burger also finally puts an end to McDonalds’ consistent cardinal sin of calling two chicken selects in a bun a “chicken burger” by whipping out a full fried chicken patty for the occasion. With the cranberry sauce, sage & onion mayo and crispy onions, it’s a little like a hot version of Pret’s seminal Christmas sandwich. The camembert melt dippers are back from last year and are a dream, too. As usual, the McFlurry machine at my local McDonalds was broken, so I was forced to go down the festive pie route, and was treated to a mincemeat and custard version of their classic Apple Pie. What a lunch.
Verdict: 4.5/5 gold rings
Subway’s Tiger Pig Sub
I lay in bed and pondered a second lunch – an Instagram Story poll saw my so-called friends vote me towards Subway over Dominos. There, things took a dark turn. I eyed up Subway’s effort: a giant pig in blanket inside a special edition tiger loaf. I felt like I was in an exotic pet shop looking at a strange reptile. It looked terrifying. I ordered it anyway.
After the sandwich artist and I had done the pointless “cheese and toasted?” dance, further panic ensued at the salad bar – what vegetable assortment could possibly complement this freak show? I quickly chose red onions, peppers and honey mustard sauce, and left without saying another word.
I got home, unwrapped the paper, and prepared myself for six disgusting inches. It was just as bad as I’d feared – alone, the sausage tasted strange, but alongside the mismatched “salad”, it was truly sinister. This is the kind of food invented for people who have ketchup with their Christmas dinner.
Verdict: 1/5 gold rings
Dominos’ ‘The Festive One’ Pizza
Despite being outvoted on Instagram, I wasn’t going to refuse a festive offering from my favourite pizza place. Dominos have kept it very simple here – there’s no cranberry sauce base and there’s no Brussel sprout dip, it’s just a Mighty Meaty with turkey, sage and onion stuffing on it, and it tastes like it. However, because Dominos do the best Bad Pizza available (Papa John’s fans, I don’t want to hear from you) this immediately goes into my good books, and was just the pick-me-up my mind, body and soul needed after The Subway Incident.
Verdict: 3/5 gold rings
KFC’s Gravy Burger Box Meal
Whilst Subway failed, at least they tried. KFC’s offering, for a second year in the row, is something you could just order from their menu anyway under a different guise – a standard Tower burger with a pot of gravy. The Christmassy twist is nothing but the implication that the gravy is to be drizzled seductively all over the inside of the burger, like a particularly naughty M&S advert. Last year, the hash brown had an adorable little divot built-in to house the gravy, but they’ve not even bothered with that this year.
I have a friend who once worked for KFC, and he swears that he would happily still eat anything from there except the gravy. I’ve never asked why, because what I don’t know can’t hurt me, and therefore I eagerly pour the poultry paste all over the hash brown in my burger. And boy does it work – a bit of sage in the gravy to give it a festive twist would not go amiss, but the way the delicious gloop pulls the bun, hash brown and chicken together like a racist aunt and uncle over your mother’s roast is what Christmas is all about.
Verdict: 3/5 gold rings
By the end of the day, I’d consumed three festive burgers, two festive bakes and a festive pie, one pizza, a truly vile sub and a mint mocha drink – a Christmas feast that Henry VIII could be proud of. Eating over 5,000 calories of fast food helped me raise hundreds of pounds for charity and was more than definitely enough to last me till the next disgustingly sentimental themed holiday. (A strawberry Valentine’s Day-themed McDonald’s milkshake, maybe?) Would I do it again? My pride says yes, but my cholesterol levels say no. Time to call it a day before scurvy rears its head.