You want it to be special, you want it to be memorable, you want them to think you could be the next finalist on Masterchef – well, I do anyway! I love a good dinner party - planning the menu, the nibbles, the table decor and all the lovely little extras. But I know for most of us it can also be a bit daunting getting all that food out, everyone watching your every move and you trying to be relaxed. My advice is to plan well, organise yourself and have a practice run then things will all fall into place and you will have an all round fun and satisfying evening. So to help you out these are my tips on how you can do just that:
1. Don’t reinvent the wheel.
For your personal sanity don’t try to create something you’ve never tried before when you’ve invited your boss and his wife to dinner. Now that’s not to say you can’t try anything exciting - we are trying to wow them after all, just make sure you try any dishes out a few days before to avoid any disasters.
Always check your guests don’t have any dietary concerns – better to know upfront then serve your brother’s girlfriend a lamb kebab when she’s a devout vegan… as I have never done, ever…
3. Theme what you are going to cook
This will help you to design your menu so you can choose dishes that will work together well. Always think about the menu as creating one whole experience and not each dish on its own. Don’t go too heavy or too light either and if you decide to try Indian then it's all about balance so go for 2 or 3 appetisers with both vegetarian and meat options. My Chicken Tikka, Aloo Tikki or Fish Kebabs with some tangy chutneys are great to get your guests in the mood for some exotic flavours. I like to have one key main dish with a number of sides like lentil dhal, cucumber raita and vegetables to keep it interesting. I also like to serve up some rice that has been jazzed up either a Pilau or Lemon Rice.
4. Be smart
Choose dishes that allow you to prepare as much as possible ahead of time so it’s easy to finish them while your guests are at the table. This way you can take your time and prepare with care. Ever thought about a cold starter? Something like Gol Guppa will really amaze your guests. Or getting the cream for your pudding whipped before your guests arrive? That way you can avoid using a noisy electric whisk and stop the cream flying out everywhere and going all over your little black sari - grrrr. Something like a Biryani is great as you can pop into the oven and get everyone drooling as the spicy aromas fill the kitchen. Another reason for all this preparation is you don’t want to miss out on the fun because you’re stuck in the kitchen making a sauce you could have done before. This is my definitive list of recipes that are great for entertaining, delicious and just right to show off your cookery skills.
It is now a running joke with my friends that you don’t get fed in my house before 10pm. So think about how long the dishes will take to cook and how much prep is required in-between each course. You don’t want it to be too late before you bring out your first masterpiece or they’ll all be too tiddled to enjoy it (another reason why I like to serve up some nibbles with drinks - these Masala Prawns take minutes to prepare and look pretty swish).
6. Cooking equipment
Think through the actual cooking of your menu. You don’t want to be left without a grill for crisping the top of your gratin because your pudding is already in the oven. Make sure you have everything you need to create your deliciousness.
Go on, do a few little extras – it’s so satisfying to say ‘I made that chutney from scratch’ or ‘check out my homemade naan bread’. Some homemade Barfii (Indian fudge) is a lovely little addition that can be made in advance and is great with coffee at the end of the night. You can really push the boat out and make a little extra for your guests to take home with them, but only if you have the time - this should still all be fun!
Do something different - it’s always nice to serve starters on platters to share, or use glass jars instead of ramekins. I love to try different ingredients for their colours so the plates look vibrant, fresh and seasonal.
9. Finishing touches
From a simple sprig of mint on your raita to shaving of chocolate over your pudding to the whipping up a coriander foam or even adding a few micro-herbs, these final tweaks will make your guests sit up and take note of your skills.
10. Dress the table
Whatever your style there is always something fun you can do to the table to make your guests smile and set the tone for the evening. Coloured fabrics, incense, candles, flowers and music are a big part of the indian culture and they will add heady Eastern atmosphere to your night. I know I said 10 but……
11. Be a good host!
Don’t forget all these people are your guests, and you want them to feel at ease and enjoy the evening. If you’re stressed they will be too, so relax, smile and enjoy yourself and once you’ve offered them a drink (make sure you have a selection including the soft stuff), pour yourself a nice big glass of bubbles and the rest will come together beautifully.Back to Blog