There’s nothing that quite compares to the utter carnage and stress of the big Christmas shop.
Where has everyone come from, why are they never usually shopping here and WHERE ARE THE AFTER EIGHTS?
Of course your bag for life will likely split under the strain of a four-kilo Norfolk Bronze and three bottles of Baileys.
You can’t be blamed for deciding it’s not worth buying a mountain of potatoes and enough party food to sink a battleship.
If you decide it’s time to take a breather in the cafe and tuck into a Christmas dinner you don’t have to cook yourself, you might wonder which of the supermarkets has the best offering.
Lucky for you, the Manchester Evening News has tried and tested them – with a mixed bag of results.
It would appear the Morrisons cafe is the most in-demand in the city, reports Emily Heward.
There’s a half hour wait on food and a bum on nearly every seat when we arrive on a Friday lunchtime, so we decide to go away and come back later.
The queue’s died down a bit but there’s still a 20-minute wait when we return.
The menu sounds promising, as supermarket caffs go.
Alongside the traditional turkey dinner there’s a veggie version with a cauliflower cheese tart, a salmon thermidor or a turkey and stuffing roll, plus a selection of starters.
We order a turkey and a veggie dinner and settle in to a booth with a view of the car park, where I once saw a man practising his saxophone scales in a trolley bay.
Twenty minutes later, a harried-looking kitchen worker comes over to tell us there’s no cauliflower cheese tarts left.
Back the veggie goes to re-join the queue and change her order for a beetroot burger.
While she’s waiting the kitchen worker reappears with my turkey dinner – along with an unbidden plate of dry potatoes and veg, which apparently now constitutes the vegetarian option.
He places a jug of gravy beside it, hesitantly. "It’s meat gravy, so I don’t know if she’ll want it," he said.
The floury roast potatoes behave like a particularly absorbent sponge and sap all the moisture out of your mouth, though the seasoning is almost there.
They are definitely helped along with a drizzle of gravy – a liberal spread of cranberry sauce has to suffice for the vegetarian (we are in a SUPERMARKET, can no one go and fetch some veggie Bisto?)
The mash is better than the roasties but the veg… Oh, the veg. It would appear the whole half hour wait has been spent slowly boiling it into oblivion.
The turkey is unnervingly brown, even underneath the gravy which is splashed all over the plate like a massacre.
I show the picture to two friends later, independently of one another.
"Is that a dead squirrel?" both asked.
The buttery meat flakes like tuna at the prod of a fork. It tastes marginally better than it looks but that’s the best we can say for it.
A solitary pig in a blanket (who can get that wrong?) and a sagey stuffing ball saves the meal from an even grimmer fate.
Haphazard service aside, the staff were lovely and couldn’t be more apologetic about the waiting time and the veggie palaver, taking that dish off the bill before we even have chance to complain.
Portions here are fairly generous for the price (£5.75) and there’s a cheap meal deal giving you two courses for £6.50 or three courses for £7.50.
But low cost and good value do not co-exist here.
This Christmas dinner reminds us of the film Love Actually – featuring a few star turns from the likes of Emma Thompson and Bill Nighy (the stuffing and the turkey), interspersed with some dismal performances from Keira Knightley and the annoying boy who learns the drums (carrots and sprouts).
The meat was salty and tender, with a good quality gravy which (thankfully) didn’t taste like it had come from a Bisto tin.
The roast potatoes were crispy and soft on the inside, reports Rebecca Day.
The stuffing was the highlight – rich and meaty, with a strong taste of sage.
And the cranberry sauce was delightful – zingy and sweet.
The vegetables were a bit disappointing – the carrots and sprouts tasted overcooked. No one likes a soggy sprout.
The Yorkshire pudding (controversial choice for a Christmas dinner?) was pretty average as well – the texture was spongy rather than light and pillowy.
Activating full festive mode, we ordered a gingerbread latte (£3.25) too. The mountain of whipped cream on top was unnecessarily indulgent, making it more of a dessert than a drink.
It’s the type of coffee that would leave an Italian connoisseur squirming.
I downed it before I even started the meal which was ill-advised as I was stuffed full of cream and sugar before even embarking on the main event. But – Christmas.
At £8.50, the food isn’t cheap – especially if you’re nipping in for a bite to eat during a shopping trip.
Paying £11.75 in total for a meal and drink seems a bit extravagant, pushing up towards pub lunch prices.
The M&S cafe on Exchange Square is absolutely heaving when I visit on a Tuesday lunchtime but the staff are prepared for it, operating like a well-oiled machine.
When I arrive in the queue I’m greeted by a cafe assistant who makes small talk before politely guiding me to the till.
After making my order I’m handed a tracker which alerts members of staff to my whereabouts when the food is prepared. There’s no messing about.
There’s a calm and comforting ambiance to an M&S cafe which is hard to replicate elsewhere.
I feel like my heart rate instantly drops when I enter, despite it being so busy.
I’m surrounded by elderly people and young families having a nice natter. Ahhhh, I could sit here all day. Very British.
When I arrive at Asda to test out its menu, I quickly find the shop has just an Express Diner, reports Matthew Cooper.
"What does that mean?" – I reply. It means they don’t serve the whole Asda cafe menu.
In fact, they don’t serve much by the looks of what’s on offer.
There are two pizzas sitting on hot plates and a box of chips further down the counter which are sitting in a puddle of their own condensation inside their box.
What they ARE selling is the Christmas dinner pizza, which is topped with turkey chunks, stuffing cubes, gigantic pigs in blankets and cranberry sauce.
It costs £6 for the entire pizza or £1.50 for a hefty slice and it’s hard to argue with that price.
I’ll take one. Except they don’t have any to hand, so I have to sit and wait while they chuck one in the oven for me.
I find a seat in the predominantly empty dining area/waiting room, although I’m not sure what the people scattered round are waiting for, except for the world to pass them by. Or for the staff to cook their pizzas maybe.
There is an eerie silence present and the predominant sound is the low buzzing of the lights and a distant frenzy of shoppers in the background buying mince pies by the dozen. Other than that it’s dead air.
Then my two slices of pizza turn up.
Christmas dinner on a pizza is a great idea on paper, but then so is socialism.
How much melted cheddar do you have over your dinner on Christmas Day?
Probably not much, that’s because the two don’t pair up particularly well.
There’s also no cranberry sauce to be seen, so essentially what I have are certain parts of a Christmas feast stuck to a cheese base like velcro.
I ask for a second opinion from the pigeon that’s been skulking around by throwing it a cube of turkey. It approves.
If it’s good enough for a garbage dove it’s good enough for me – especially at £1.50 a slice.
How does a supermarket ensure they’re not going to ruin a perfectly good roast dinner?
Well, don’t try and make a roast dinner in the first place, reports Daisy Jackson.
Tesco have shunned the conventional meat-and-five-veg-and-some-more-meat-wrapped-inside-another-meat format and instead stuck to a cafe offering, with a selection of festive paninis, toasties and sandwiches and some syrup-laden hot drinks too.
Yeah, you heard that right – festive panini.
There’s the pigs under blankets panini (so, bacon and sausage) which is served with a Bechemal sauce (£4.25), a ham hock and piccalilli sandwich (£3.50), and a brie and cranberry toastie (£3.95).
What makes these different from the sandwiches lined up in the fridges downstairs is that these ones are crushed inside a panini press before you eat them.
Nothing screams Christmas quite like a flat, warm baguette, eh?
There are a few sarnies served at room temperature, such as a Christmas staple of turkey, stuffing and bacon (just one strip of bacon though, don’t get too excited).
The verdict is "Basic, but actually quite nice."
On to the hot stuff, and that brie and cranberry toastie.
As if a sandwich stuffed with cheese wasn’t quite enough, one slice of the bread here is topped with a melted cheese crust, like a croque monsieur.
It’s a nice touch in principal, but in reality it’s complete overkill.
The process of warming it back up again creates a weirdly salty cheese crisp, like the sort of thing that forms in the bottom of your oven when your cheese on toast overflows.
When I pull the two halves of white bread apart, molten brie makes a speedy escape and pools on the plate, gifting me with a fondue set-up for my crusts. This part I’m on board with.
There’s a decent selection of festive bakes too, including a Viennese whirl take on a mince pie, and some mini swiss rolls with reindeer faces jammed onto one end.
Seasonal drinks specials include the typical selection of gingerbread lattes and black forest hot chocolates – we opt for a mulled fruit warmer and a spiced apple warmer, both £1.95, and barely distinguishable from one another.
They’re enormous, and the mulled spice proves sickly without the body of red wine behind it.
We sit and nurse our pints of hot mulled water while taking in the sweeping panorama of the pyjama aisle below us, pausing occasionally to spit out shards of star anise.
All in all though, this is a perfectly pleasant supermarket Christmas experience.
Not one you’d choose on the big day, but it’ll do the job for a Wednesday lunch break.
Well they’ve come up trumps with this year’s Christmas ad – people can’t get enough of plug boy – but how does Sainsbury’s fare in the festive dinner stakes?
I say dinner, that’s what us Mancs call lunch, but at 2.30pm on a Friday afternoon it was practically verging on tea time, reports Emma Gill.
If there had been a mad rush for the turkey roast it had certainly died down by the time I took a seat.
It doesn’t seem to appear on a menu as such, that’s mainly breakfast and other mains, but a sign behind the counter assures me I can get a full turkey roast dinner for a reasonable £5.50.
The fridge full of festive sarnies offers a wide variety for those wanting something quicker.
Judging by the empty shelf behind the Pigs in Blankets Toastie sign, (£3.50), it seems that’s proving a winner.
Sitting down with my impressively-sized mug of tea and mince pie, well at £1.70 for both then why not, my meal’s here in 15 minutes.
It’s not so much service with a smile as service with a telling off for not having my number displayed high enough.
How am I supposed to know the piece of card folds out to stand on end?
Now in my younger days I wouldn’t have batted an eye lid at frozen spuds and Yorkshires, but having lived with a chef for the past 15 years, I’m not so easily pleased.
They taste OK though and the meat is nice and succulent, with meaty gravy that doesn’t taste like its out of a tub.
There’s stuffing and cranberry sauce and to my delight, hiding cheekily between the spuds, are two mini sausages.
I say delight, I was pleased by their presence, not so much their size and the absence of any piggy blanket.
It makes a refreshing change to not have to fight over them mind – we’re a bit of a sausage-loving family in my house.
The cauliflower cheese is a pleasant surprise too and cooked to perfection.
But the only greens on my plates are sprouts.
I’m not a fan of sprouts anyway but there’s no way I’d been eating these mushy balls. Someone didn’t follow the instructions on the packet did they?
Overall it’s a decent meal, especially for the price.
With cardboard baubles hanging from the ceiling and Feed The World belting out from the speakers, it’s almost enough to make me feel festive.
And if you’re heading to Sainsbury’s caff this Christmas, don’t fret, there’s no need to be afraid.
I might have to get my pigs in blankets in a toastie next time.
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