Friends, you know me. I’m all about the food, I’m all about the recipes and I’m definitely all about the eating. You see me in action at the stove and know I love cooking, but what you maybe don’t realise is that I really, really like to entertain and host a good dinner party, too. For me, it’s the other side of the cooking coin – what’s the point of making amazing food if you don’t share it?
Great food, great conversation, great people = my kinda party.
Having people around the table is one of my great joys and over the years I’ve thought long and hard about how to be a good host. Which isn’t about just making an impressive spread, although clearly that’s essential. It’s also about how a party should ‘flow’, how to create a relaxed atmosphere filled with happy conversation, setting a wow-factor table, and how I cover my absence if I’m busy in the kitchen. There’s a lot to get right when hosting a soiree and, if you find it stressy having people over, I’m going to tell you how I make it a breeze.
It’s dinner, but make it ‘party’.
Choose your main and the work is pretty much done
Well, maybe that’s a stretch. But honestly, deciding if you’re going to serve an individually plated beef stir-fry with some rice, a ultra-luxurious pasta, or a roast duck dished up family-style with some amazing side dishes in big bowls, should be your first decision and helps everything else fall into place. Some mains can be made ahead and just need to be dished up at serving time, while others require last-minute cooking, which takes you away from guests.
Pasta can still be luxe. Trust.
Both approaches are valid, but they kind of shape how the rest of the party pans out. Depending on how I feel and what the occasion is, I can go either way. I love a big, informal, help-yourself set up for the main, which leaves me free to float around and offer snacks and drinks. But if I need to be in the kitchen to cook a main for individually plating, then I prefer a buffet kind of situation for the starters, where people can serve themselves and happily mingle. So consider what sort of party you want, how you would like it to flow, then choose your main course and serving-style accordingly. After that, work out the rest of your menu around those considerations.
But please, can we talk about arrival drinks?
A classic G&T is a sophisticated choice for guests, and a simple option for the host.
You know when you arrive at a party, the host is frantic in the kitchen and no one is circulating with drinks? Annoying. I hate this. So if I know I’m going to be busy when people arrive, my workaround is to set up a drinks station where they can help themselves. I make sure it looks amazing so everyone’s drawn to it and this doesn’t take much effort.
Sometimes I opt for a gin and tonic station with all the mixers and garnishes people might want as a classic yet sophisticated option (Mango, Mint and Cucumber version, anyone?). Otherwise, I’ll simply line trays with plenty of sparkling glassware, fill a large ice bucket so everyone can get their own, and have large jugs or carafes of pre-prepped cocktails ready to pour, like a Peachy Long Island Iced Tea or a Vodka, Cherry & Pink Grapefruit Cooler. These make a colourful statement, plus they’re a pain-free way to offer mixed drinks without anyone having to play mixologist.
Cocktail carafes = easy hosting hack.
Either way, it’s all about creating a warm, inviting atmosphere and an experience guests can relax into. You want them to feel totally at home.
A beautifully set table
Beautiful homewares make all the difference when hosting.
I realise this goes without saying, but you want to set a stunning table when hosting a dinner party. All those beautiful homewares you use are as important as the food you put on them; everything should work together to create gorgeousness, set the mood and make guests feel spesh.
I first consider whether I want to use pieces that are colourful, or more neutral. Either way I like an eclectic, but co-ordinated, mix of shapes, tones and textures, and I tend to collect pieces that have the ability to mix and match. I don’t love a totally uniform look as I find this a bit too formal and l like things ‘looser’. So I might combine marble accents with slightly rustic platters and hand-hammered glassware; this creates a dynamic, generous kind of overall effect.
I love to combine marble platters for a relaxed dinner party vibe.
I also find different heights on the table really adds to that feeling of abundance so I throw together flat platters, raised plates and footed bowls for a show-stopping, multi-height impact – nothing too dramatic though as you still want everyone to see each other when they’re seated.
Kicking things off with amazing, but simple, starters
Or snacks. Or whatever you want to call them. Either way, I don’t get too hung up on menu terminology because it can sound stuffy. I theme the first part of the menu around, maybe, a selection of seafood with accompaniments; seafood always makes an occasion feel gala so I’ll go for this if I really want to make a major splash.
Otherwise I like serving a selection of lovely cheeses with fruit pastes, fruits, pickles, olives, breads and crackers, choosing whole cheeses if possible as they always look lavish and generous. Especially when you place them on lovely, roomy plates and platters. Or maybe I’ll create a bruschetta bar, where guests can DIY from a range of vibrant toppings arranged on platters. It always looks amazing and gets everyone mixing and chatting, setting the right, relaxed tone.
For a more Asian twist (because everything tastes better that way), try my Brie Cheese Dumplings, some seriously pimped garlic bread or my Prawn Cocktail Wonton Cups, which taste as phenom as they look.
Prawn cocktail… in a wonton cup? Hello, good thing.
All these options have one thing in common; they not only look spectacular but they are relatively painless to prep and bring together.
Don’t forget all the other essential bits and pieces!
Don’t forget to add finesse and cute styling deets to your place settings.
Candlesticks, flowers, music, lovely napery, beautiful cutlery and flatware, coasters, the right wines, a centrepiece for the table, servers, finger bowls… these all add to the overall atmosphere and sense of being a thoughtful host. Maybe you want a more fun, funky vibe, or one that’s sleeker and understated; it all depends on your own taste, the food and the occasion. But everything should work together to support the mood you have in mind so don’t overlook all the little details in your planning.
Now go forth and entertain…