Friday, 19 November 2010

The return of the dinner party?

With Christmas fast approaching it's the time of year when we are all thinking about socialising with friends and family. But I wonder how many of us will hesitate before booking a table at a restaurant or suggestting an outing to a gastro pub. Nevertheless, sitting down to a meal with loved ones is one of life's great pleasures and if the recession is making you stop and think you might return to the business of entertaining at home.

It's a daunting prospect cooking for more than two people at once. Entertaining them at the same time while you lay the table, cook, serve food and time the next course is not something the TV cooks ever explain.

However, I think you get off to a crackingly good start if you've laid your table before guests arrive and if you lay it well. A beautifully laid table is an invitation to sit down, relax and enjoy. Even if you don't get the food quite right, or the timing of courses, if guests feel they are sitting down at a beautifully laid table with all the bits they will overlook a lot.

For me, making an effort to include all the classic bits of dinner tableware is key. Top of my list and often overlooked is flowers or some sort of foliage display but keep it small and be prepared to move it out the way as food arrives.

The other thing that's vital to enjoy food at home is serving plates and platters!!!!! I loathe turning up at a dinner party to have my food served up in the kitchen like a school dinner and brought to the table.

The other thing that is unbearable is no wine left on the table. Wine left out of reach in a kitchen or on a sideboard is basically rude to your guests, not many people do this but a recent acquaintance, a man with pretensions to running a gourmet restaurant no less, did exactly that.

We were sat down as though in a canteen, no wine was on the table nor was it offered until we had almost finished our main course. And while he must have thought himself a generous host stacking our plates high with food we were unable to finish what we'd been given and he visibly took ofence at this. Needless to say, we were relieved when the whole thing was over and we could go home and relax.

Allow guests to serve themselves veg, meat and wine. It will help people interact with each other as they pass things, politely, around. This is a lost art, this interacting over a dinner table mainly because we've got used to eating in restaurants where waiters bring things.

The key thing for me with a good dinner party is to create an event that everyone around the table feels comfortable with. That means you as host or hostess has to get yourself organised sufficiently well so that you can spend time enjoying the experience with your guests.

My other awful dinner party experience was at a friend's house where she too ferried food back and forth from the kitchen, handing food anxiously to you and then running off to hide. She rarely sat down with us and actually ate it was left to her other half to handle the conversation. If she did sit down it was momentary and there was certainly no lingering at the dinner table at the end of the meal. She was like a cat on amphetamines.