If you enjoy entertaining, having friends round for dinner is perhaps one of the best ways to spend an evening. But for the uninitiated, what starts as a bit of fun can quickly turn into a logistical nightmare. We asked chef and supper club expert Luiz Hara to dish up his secrets.
15 minutes – that's all it takes to get between Heathrow and central London on our high speed train services. It got us thinking… what else can you do in 15 minutes? This issue: Host a great dinner party
As a supper club host, I entertain about 100 guests each week in my home, and have picked up a few tips the hard way over the years. Here are just a few:
Plan, plan, plan
I cannot emphasise this strongly enough. When your reputation is on the line, this is the time to put all those project planning and organizational skills you have acquired to good use. The last thing you want is to have your guests arrive when you, your kitchen and home look a complete mess!
Menu planning – be a step ahead!
Choose an appropriate menu and prepare as much as possible ahead of time. Draft a written plan - break down the recipes over the time you have (make sure it is achievable!) preparing every part of the recipes you can in advance. This will give you a head-start for the evening. For my events, I start cooking two days ahead. There is nothing worse than your friends feeling guilty that you are working too hard during the dinner.
The finer details are key
Just as important as the food and drink, think of the finer details that make a difference - setting, atmosphere and entertainment. Your home should be clean and warm - there is nothing more unappetizing than a dusty house or a dirty kitchen. Make sure that the music selection for the evening has been thought out (think of your guests, not only yourself). Ideally, put together a continuous playlist for the duration of the dinner. Set the table with fresh cut flowers and candles, and appropriate glass wear and crockery.
You should plan to finish your preparation at least one hour before your guests arrive, to give you plenty of time to unwind, shower and dress. You should aim to open the door with a gin and tonic in your hand, not a dish cloth!
Getting the right mix and number of guests
A couple of guests does not a party make. But then again, too many will almost certainly mean you struggle to keep up. I find a minimum of 8 guests (and up to 12) is a good number to give your party the buzz it needs.
I like having a balanced mix of couples and single friends, why should either group be excluded? An informal table plan works best – ask your guests to sit where you want them to, but avoid printing out place names. You don’t want your party to look like a military exercise! And, while it might be tempting to only invite extrovert, Alpha male/female types, if you have a room full of them no one will get a word in edgeways! Invite a mix of people who perhaps share a particular interest ‒ be it work, wine or travel. And don’t forget to introduce them to one another!
And so, what to cook & drink?
Make your chosen menu seasonal and uncomplicated, with a balanced number of dishes that complement one another. I usually go for lighter fish dishes in summer but love serving warming, slow-braised meats in the colder months.
Offer your guests a canapé or something to nibble on as they arrive – they might already be hungry and may otherwise be starving by the time your first dish is served.
Have a 'wow' dish up your sleeve. I usually serve mine as a starter as I think it helps to set the tone for the evening. For example, I love serving a light Peruvian sashimi (known as Tiradito), drizzled with a zingy lime dressing with chillies and fresh herbs, which is relatively easy to prepare and looks and tastes great.
If the budget allows, it is always nice to start the evening with an easy cocktail like Gin & Tonic or even a glass of Champers. But if it doesn’t, even the more modest Prosecco or Cava will make a great welcome cocktail when mixed with a little Aperol or a fruit liqueur.
Choose a few good bottles of wine to accompany the food – there is no point in cooking a great meal to then pair it with substandard wines. Do not expect your guests to bring their own bottle, but if they do, make sure to serve their bottles before your chosen ones whenever possible.
Depending on the number of guests and complexity of your menu you might want to hire some help for the evening. If the budget allows, an extra pair of hands to serve food and clear up whilst you are entertaining your guests can help ensure everything all runs smoothly.
Remember to enjoy yourself!
Having worked so hard preparing, relax and enjoy yourself. But then again not too much; food still needs to be cooked and served, it would be a shame to burn your main course or, worse still, drop it on the floor (and I talk from experience!). So do not get tipsy - until at least dessert time!
Find out more about Luiz's Supper Club
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