Lockdown has been a strange time for everyone. Most of us would’ve taken up a bit of dodgy DIY, becoming an expert sourdough baker or dusted off those forgotten cake tins to make endless batches of banana bread. These are things that haven’t really continued since lockdown ended, but one thing that might become a more regular occurrence is the old-fashioned dinner party. With a large number of restaurants still closed, many of us are hosting friends instead; choosing to shop for better ingredients and becoming a bit more confident in the kitchen.
With the revival of the dinner party, we thought we’d share our top tips for being the perfect host, bringing your dining room to life and ways to introduce a bit of that restaurant magic into your own home.
TIP 1 – PREPARE AHEAD AND KEEP IT SIMPLE
The old saying goes, ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’. And that truly applies here. Prepping as much as you can in advance will save you time and hassle when your guests arrive. From making sure your dishwasher is empty before the dinner party, to setting the table well in advanced so you’re not rushing around at the start.
Keeping things simple will help you not only in the preparation, but also at the end of the evening when all your guests have gone, and you’re left with the washing up. Don’t try and do 3 courses on 3 separate plates. Serve from the middle and tell your guests to hang onto the same plate throughout. Keep the food simple too. For example, cold starters mean you can prepare ahead and serve immediately. You don’t want to spend your whole evening in the kitchen while your guests are having all the fun.
TIP 2 - BRING THE RESTAURANT HOME
We think bringing elements of a fine dining restaurant into the home, will make your guests feel like their having a Michelin star experience. From writing out simple menus, to name place cards, these little touches will go a long way.
Here are some suggestions:
1) Writing out the menu’s for each guest. It is a small detail, but instantly makes your dinner party seem like an event.
2) Reuse your old wine bottles as candle holders. We have a great wine bar hack for this, as often the neck of a bottle is too narrow to fit a dinner candle. Simply dunk the end of the candle in some boiling water, for a few seconds. The wax will soften, and the candle will fit in the bottle neck with ease.
3) Reuse your old wine corks as place setting holders. Cut a thin strip off the bottom (to make a flat base) and cut a line across the top. You can then fit a name card in the top cut.
4) Writing your guests names on their wine glass with a chalk pen (available on Amazon, in WH Smiths and most stationary stores). With Covid safety being so important, this is a good way to make sure no one accidentally drinks from another’s glass. It also stops you from spending your whole evening re-washing glasses.
TIP 3 - SPLASH OUT ON NICE GLASSWARE
One simple way to get maximum enjoyment from the wine you’ll be serving, is to drink it in proper wine glasses. And that doesn’t mean spending hundreds of pounds on a set of new Zalto’s. Riedel and Spigleau offer superb, restaurant standard wine glasses at a really good price.
Another sure way to impress your guests is to decant your wines. Even if it’s 30 mins before serving, the process of decanting wines will allow your wines to open up fully before drinking and will also make your guests feel part of something special. All wine can be decanted. And it’s super easy!
TIP 4 – BE BRAVE WITH YOUR FOOD AND WINE PAIRINGS
Keeping things simple doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice on flavour either. There are some fantastic, easy recipes out there that can be paired with unusual wines. For example, deep, full flavoured reds like Shiraz pair really well with spice, perhaps a lamb or vegetable curry. Merlot is great with slow roasted meats, like a pulled pork taco. White wines can equally bring some interesting conversations to a dinner party, why not try hotdogs with Champagne, or salmon Gravalax with a cold glass of Provence Rose?
Desserts are always fun too. Some great pudding wines will elevate a simple dessert to new levels. Try a cold icewine with a peach cobbler. Sweet wines will also pair really well with a well selected cheese board, especially creamy, blue cheeses.
TIP 5 – REMEMBER TO ENJOY YOURSELF
Hosting can be stressful, but always remember that it’s just a bit of food and wine. Hospitality comes from the heart, and no matter what you serve, or what inevitably goes wrong (you’re only human), the overall experience will still be wonderful. The simple act of cooking for friends, in your own home, is already so special. Everything else is just a bonus. You are not a professional restaurant, and your friends will love you even if you accidentally burn dessert. Great restaurants like to treat their customers as guests; people they have welcomed into their home to lavish with kindness, generosity and the food they like to serve. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Relax, go with the flow, and always enjoy yourself.
BONUS TIP – THE HANGOVER CURE
One last note from us. Drink well, eat well, and make sure you have a pint of water ready before you go to bed and no concrete plans the next day. Stock up on the berocca for the next morning and have the ultimate greasy breakfast foods ready to fry up. There is no set ‘hangover cure’ but these three tips have seen us through a lot of groggy mornings.