How To Throw The Ultimate Dinner Party
A playlist full of ‘90s R&B bangers? Check. Bottle of not-the-cheapest-but-the-second-cheapest white wine that they had in your local wine shop? Check. Ingredients list that’s longer than your weekly shopping list? Check. Dinner parties are back, baby. And they’re returning in a big way.
We’ve all spent the last year of our lives honing our cooking skills and, now that most of the rules have relaxed, it’s finally time to show off what we’ve learned in front of our nearest and dearest friends that we haven’t seen in months. Throwing a disappointing dinner party is something that most people should be able to do in their sleep. Especially if you’re relatively confident in the kitchen. Slap together a bog-standard spag bol with a few hastily-written witty place settings and you’ll be well on your way to having one of those nights where all your guests can take it in turns on tepidly congratulating one another on their respective job promotions despite not really knowing what the other person does for a living. You’ll have an OK dinner party that blurs into all the other OK dinner parties you hosted in the “before times”. Which is OK.
But you don’t want to host a below-average dinner party, do you? You want to host a dinner party that will have all your chums thinking that you’ve come out the other side of a global pandemic in chrysalis-to-butterfly fashion as the most sophisticated and well put-together adult that they know, don’t you? You want people to think you’re the next Nigel Slater or Nigella Lawson. Well, let’s be honest, mate: you’re going to need a little bit of help to do that. That's why I’ve rallied the troops of some of the UK’s best supper club hosts to give you a hand with how to throw the ultimate dinner party. If you follow the advice of all these clever, clever people to a tee, you’ll be hosting an unforgettable dinner party where people will be talking about the food and vibe for years to come.
If you want my personal tip, it’s this: make loads of gildas. They’re delicious and everyone will love them. But if you want some more in-depth and educated info on how to host the best dinner party, read on.
Rhiannon Butler and Maria K-Georgiou (aka Mam Sham)
"Preparation is key, there’s not enough candlelight or Nora Jones to distract your guests from your panic. Get your snacks on the table ASAP; olives, anchovies, bread and butter. If your pals are like ours, they’ll arrive thirsty as well as hungry and needy, so have a jug of Negroni in the fridge ready to go. People are shallow, and you’ve dolled yourself up but it shouldn’t stop there, we often roll down to the bargain bucket of a fabric store for a unique (eclectic?) table cloth – stunning. People eat with their mouths, eyes, and ears, lull your guests with a sexy playlist (check out 'Mam Sham on Foundation Fm’ on Spotify for over 12 hours of b2b bangers). Lastly, you want to spend as much time with your guests and out of the kitchen, so slow-cooked meat is always a great option: it’s almost impossible to overcook, zero stress and you can dress it beautifully with lots of herbs, pomegranate seeds, and plenty of the leftover juices."
"Go for a menu that doesn’t chain you to the kitchen. Think ‘bung in the oven’ dishes and salads you can prep ahead and toss just before serving. I’m a big fan of roasted veg dishes at room temperature, too. You want to make sure you’re part of the party so choose dishes that don’t require too much babysitting. Plating goes a long way as well. Fresh herbs, lemon zest, edible flowers (if you’re feeling extra fancy) go a long way. As does a big platter. Spaghetti with homemade pesto might seem more weekday supper than wow, but pile it up high on your hugest dish or plate and go heavy with the fresh basil and shavings of good cheese and it instantly brings drama to the table.
I always love to create a bit of a centrepiece to my table, too. Filling a bowl with lemons is an inexpensive and effective way to bring some sparkle to the table and I love stem vases. Start collecting and keeping hold of any small glass bottles or jars and dot them down the centre of the table. It’s a clever way to stretch out a bunch of flowers. Something I love to do when hosting a dinner party is to make a selection of canapés. Canapés are having a comeback and it needn’t be complicated. Get some fancy crackers and a good jar or tapenade, or make your own. Stir some fresh crab with fresh chilli, lime zest and a little mayo and fill chicory leaves for a summery bite. More often than not, it’s the little things that people really remember and that set the evening apart from dinner with mates to a dinner party!"
Mark Corbyn, The Adobros
"My supper club has been described as a 'dinner party with friends you haven’t met yet' – and I think that really hits the nail on the head for any dinner party! It’s important to get your guests comfortable and feeling right at home from the outset: shoes off, comfy slippers on, punchy cocktail in hand, snacks on the table, good music on.
Once they’re settled, I like to throw in a few icebreakers or conversation starters to get people talking – and I also keep their drinks topped up! From then on, the evening will flow with little extra effort needed. But to really seal the deal, it does help to serve up a cracking meal."
Emily and Amy Chung, Rangoon Sisters
"The most memorable events we have hosted have involved good mixing of guests – we usually do a table plan in advance and mix different groups up – we love it when by the end of the evening, people who've met for the first time are buying each other rounds of drinks and have bonded over a shared love of food (having said that we did bear witness to a couple who came along, didn't talk to anyone else and then appeared to have split up by the end of the evening!). Also, it may be obvious, but making sure you have lots and lots of food – leftovers are a bonus – as the LAST thing you want is for your guests to go home unsatisfied!”
Mary San Pablo, Luto
"My recipe for a good time always starts with evocative tunes so the guests instantly get switched on to the mood of the evening. My supper club is based around Filipino food so I play mostly music that I have heard whilst back there or songs that are transportive to summers I’ve spent there – anything from old school disco at my auntie’s house to Sister Nancy to local band, Cinderella. I have also double purposed my placemats which I have printed to feature the menu, and on the back give a little story of each dish."
Wild by Tart
"Always introduce different heights to your table, from glasses to candlesticks, and raised platters of food. For the food, opt for beautiful seasonal dishes that are delicious and elegantly simple. We love a wild, natural look; throw in colours, greenery and seasonal flowers where possible, again at different heights along the table. Not forgetting, the most important mood maker: music. It's an essential ingredient to a good dinner party. Play music that will make you feel confident and happy."
Our café on Lavender Hill in Battersea is well-known for good old party, think tequila shots and people dancing on the table. My top 5 tips will make sure you can relax and enjoy being the host with the most!
- It’s all in the planning; get organised, plan your menu and drinks and shop with a list so you don’t overspend or forget anything.
- Prepare the day before; I find that laying the table and cooking as much of the means I can totally relax on the day. No host wants to be stuck in the kitchen. Enjoying the evening with your guests is what is most important.
- Add a few extra special touches to the table. Think some fun place names, a handwritten menu, or party games.
- Always have a bottle of limoncello in the freezer and some party games to hand in for when the evening really takes off.
- Good music and lighting will make sure your guests totally relax, get that playlist on point!