Elevate the traditional meal with these tasty first courses.

Whether your family goes in for lunch or dinner on Christmas Day, it is the meal we wait all year for. Some families wouldn’t dream of starting until the Queen’s speech is out of the way. Others don’t begin until nightfall.

Whatever your timings look like, this is the moment to push the boat out. The halls are decked, the children need to eat something that isn’t made of chocolate and the grown-ups are desperate to indulge with abandon.

We probably have Charles Dickens and his A Christmas Carol to thank for the lavish way we go about the Christmas meal today.

In the novel – written in 1843 – the poor but loving Cratchit family sit down to a feast of goose (provided by a reformed and chastened Ebenezer Scrooge) stuffed with sage and onion, mashed potatoes and apple sauce. There are apples, oranges and chestnuts on the table. They finish off the festivities with a Christmas pudding. The book popularised that sort of spread and we have barely looked back.

Here – to precede the ten million turkeys and 500 million brussels sprouts we’ll consume on December 25 – are a range of fabulous festive starters that will whet the appetites of your family and friends.

Whole Roasted Ricotta With Honeyed Figs

Jamie Oliver

The Naked Chef has this to say about catering at Christmas: ‘About three weeks before it’s thinking about the menu, batch-making cocktails, stocking the freezer with homemade pies, tarts, pastry – all the things that can live in here happily until the festive period kicks in. Then there’s the serious planning stage – choosing your recipes and making a plan.’ His roasted ricotta with honeyed figs is a fool-proof starter. The zingy mint and sticky figs add a freshness that is particularly welcome on Christmas Day. Find the recipe here.

Tuna Sashimi With Avocado And Yuzu Dressing

Caroline Barty/ House & Garden

Image: Helen Cathcart
Don’t be frightened of making your own sashimi. This recipe is a lot easier than it sounds and it is sure to blow the minds of your guests. Come on, this is the year to branch out and produce something fabulous. Find the recipe here.

Smoked Salmon Beetroot And Fennel

Nigel Slater/ The Guardian

Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer
The King of Christmas says: ‘I want to be ushered gently into the Christmas feast. A couple of small courses, crisp and light, to tease and delight before we start carving the roast bird and passing around the trimmings.’ His jewel-coloured plate of smoked salmon, beetroot and fennel ticks that very box. Find the recipe here.

Chestnut, Bacon And Parsnip Soup

BBC Good Food

This recipe, from the endlessly dependable website BBC Good Food, is rich and pleasingly old-fashioned. Serve in small bowls as a warming start to the main event. Find the recipe here.

Mary Berry's Salmon, Leek and Dill Tarts


This easy and light first course looks as though you’ve made a great effort and is a delicious way to soak up all that champagne. Find the recipe here.

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Venison Carpaccio with Lemon and Caper Dressing

“An elegant, delicious, appetite-piquing first course can make the difference between a meal that’s just a supper or a lunch, and one that’s, well, properly celebratory,” says the food writer and TV presenter. We urge you not to be scared off by the suggestion that you make your own carpaccio; just as with the tuna sashimi above, all you need is a good, sharp knife. This will wow the table. Find the recipe here.

Delia Smith’s Warm Pear and Walnut Salad

Delia Online

If anybody knows how to do Christmas with efficiency and flair, it is Delia. This warm salad, with its fruit and nuts and blue cheese, is festive and fun. Find the recipe here.

Jamie Oliver’s Crostini Greens

Jamie Oliver

These perky little toasts look as good on the plate as they taste – and they usher in a dose of vitamins and verdancy on a day when such things can be lacking. Find the recipe here.

Ottolenghi’s Pumpkin, Saffron and Orange Soup with Caramelised Pumpkin Seeds


Yotam Ottolenghi says: “The food that we create … is full of harmonious contradictions: it’s vibrant and bold yet familiar and comforting; it’s beautiful to look at yet close to its original form; it’s full of surprising drama yet always comes together as one; it’s noisy yet peaceful, lip-smacking yet warm, simple yet daring.” Singing with his signature flavour, this soup will soothe and delight your guests without overshadowing what is to come. Find the recipe here.

By Becky Ladenburg
December 2021

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Becky Ladenburg

Features Editor

As the GWG's features editor, Becky has her discerning finger on the cultural pulse. She's also our go-to expert on the property market.