Gone are the days of starched linen tablecloths, evening wear and passing the port to the left. Today’s dinner parties are all about a relaxed atmosphere, great conversation and simple, fresh food.
Kitchen as theatre
The formal dining room has given way to an open plan living area that incorporates the kitchen/dining area and comfy sofas where guests can relax. This lo-key luxe was epitomised by last week’s photo showing Samantha Cameron and Michelle Obama sitting on a mustard yellow sofa in front of slim grey units in the newly refitted kitchen at Downing Street.
Inspired by TV shows and chefs like Jamie Oliver and Heston Blumenthal, people’s confidence in their cooking skills is growing and they want to show them off – hence the new kitchen-come-living space. Couple this with a desire to bring people together over good food and wine, and you have the winning formula for a convivial and laid back evening.
What to serve
Local, fresh and seasonal food is the order of the day when planning your menu. Plan ahead so you’re not preparing everything at the last minute. Go for a theme (Italian, Mexican etc) or select the main course, and decide on the other dishes to complement it. If your main course is rich, choose a lighter pudding and vice versa. Cheeseboards are popular too, and a great opportunity to introduce different wines.
If the evening goes well, your guests will be basking in a warm and inviting atmosphere conducive to great conversation. Keep the décor simple but elegant. Large colourful blooms in short vases can be stunning while a simple candelabra adds a perfect dash of romance to a table. And don’t forget, music really adds to the atmosphere.
Dining al fresco
If you’ve got the space, outdoor dining can be magical. Serve drinks at low tables surrounded by large scatter cushions. Paper lanterns along pathways and tealights in trees transform a garden into an enchanted space. Outdoor fires are a huge hit if your guests are staying late into the evening – go for chimineas or fire pits.
Guests – getting the perfect mix
Somewhere between 4 and 8 guests (including hosts) is the perfect number. Choose people you know get on, or have common interests. If you’re mixing singletons and couples, resist the temptation to play matchmaker. Let people know what the mood of the evening will be. Guests usually arrive up to half an hour late so be prepared beforehand and don’t overdo the chablis while you’re waiting for them to turn up.
Each week we publish some of our favourite recipes from the Constance kitchens for you to try at home.