Over the years, we’ve hosted thousands and thousands of tables. So, it might surprise that one of our favourite things to do when we’re not hosting a restaurant full of people is to host them at home instead.
As a team of dinner-party devotees, we naturally gravitate towards a dining table, surrounded by old and new friends, sharing delicious food and generally just enjoying the pleasure of company.
Like most things that look simple, crafting a memorable dinner party can be a complex affair. After years of combining restaurant skills with at-home know-how, we’ve collectively come up with a few formulas to help you create dinner party perfection – without feeling like you’re working overtime.
Guess who’s coming to dinner?
You might have expected us to say the most important element of a great dinner party is the food – but, really, it’s the people you’re dining with. One of our favourite things about dinner parties is that you don’t have to give up the table for another sitting (same rules apply here at Attica, where the table is yours for the night). There’s no rush, so invite people you can enjoy spending the evening with, however long it goes for.
A thoughtful mix of guests is the foundation that a great evening can be built on top of. Try to invite people who might not know each other, but that you think would get along. There’s no better shortcut to creating and strengthening friendships than a dinner party.
Having a blend of people from different backgrounds is also a good idea. Speaking from experience, if you invite a bunch of chefs over, they’re only going to talk about being chefs, and that’s kind of boring. At time of invite, make sure you get everyone’s dietary requirements as well.
As for a seating plan, feel free to give it a miss. Our only suggestion would be to seat yourself closest to the kitchen. This lets you duck out to check on things without disrupting the flow of conversation.
To this end, if you’re really serious about regular hosting – we’d recommend investing in an oval or circular table. They’re the most conducive to socialising and allow people to talk freely.
The cook/host paradox
When balancing your roles as both cook and host, weight your time towards hosting. The best way to spend less time in the kitchen is by planning a menu that you know well, full of easily prepped dishes that don’t require too much effort.
When it comes to the menu, we like to keep Ben’s number one rule in mind: Never make any recipes you haven't cooked before. Trust us.
We suggest beginning the night with a cold starter or snack for your guests on arrival (if you’re comfortable with shucking, oysters are great). Next, an entrée you can serve cold, warm or hot – but it needs to be easy to plate.
Hot is definitely the way to go for your main course, but pick something that doesn’t need much intervention – think a braise, stew or lasagne. We’d also accompany this with a few sides to share – so your guests can design their meal to their preferences.
Finally, we like to wrap things up with a cold dessert, seasonal fruit or a selection of cheeses. Dinner parties don’t need to be lavish affairs, but if you are going to splurge – head to your local market and buy the best cheese you can.
Oh, and a final tip. Wear black. A host in a freshly stained white shirt might as well be a distress signal.
Don’t be afraid to showcase your personality through your favourite glassware, flowers, tableware and utensils. Music is also a must, and it’s good to keep an eye on the volume throughout the evening. As conversation ebbs and flows, you might need to pump it up and down accordingly.
Lighting helps set the mood. Avoid bright overhead lights at all costs (no one wants to feel like they’re eating in a convenience store). Candles are a nice mood-setter, but they’re not essential.
If you’re using napkins, ironing them before your guests arrive is a small detail that can make a significant impression. Taking the time to ensure all your table settings are spaced evenly also falls into this category.
When it comes to cutlery, set forks to the left and knives to the right at the start of the night — and don’t be afraid to ask your guests to hang onto them between courses (same goes for wine glasses). Then set anything else you might need, such as dessert spoons, as you go.
Meet your new bartender – the freezer
Having some cocktails ready to go when your guests arrive is a great way to set the tone of evening. Much like the food, you want something that lets you do most of the prep in advance (you don’t want to spend all night with a cocktail shaker in hand).
Here are two simple cocktail recipes we love that can be made in advance and kept in the freezer until you’re ready to serve.
Once batched, these will keep in the freezer forever. They’re best served over ice in a chilled coupe or cocktail glass and garnished with the peel of your favourite citrus.
For a 750mL bottle – add 200ml of each ingredient, then top with 150mL of water to balance the drink.
Boulevardier: a rounder version of a negroni, meant for the cooler months. Combine bourbon or rye whiskey with Campari (or a local alternative) and sweet vermouth.
Martini (sort of): a softer, more delicate alternative to the classic that's still dry and savoury. Combine gin with dry vermouth and dry sherry (Fino or Manzanilla)
As for wine, we recommend a rule of thumb of roughly one bottle per person. It’s always better to have more on hand and any unopened bottles can easily be kept for another occasion.
Chances are you’ll probably be hosting some people who aren’t drinking or are simply drinking less. Spare them the soda water and stock up on low or no-alcohol options that will surprise them. Some of our favourites at the restaurant right now are NON's whole range of non-wine alternatives and Molly Rose Brewing’s non-alcoholic beers.
Let us host you when you need a night off from dinner parties.