If Jona Lewie was to believed, thanks to his 1980 hit, you “could always find him in the kitchen at parties.” Of course, we would naturally say that you should find yourself in the kitchen at parties, after all that’s what we make, kitchens. However with the advent of larger kitchen dining areas, and more people taking the plunge to extend and develop their eating and entertainment area, it’s only becoming more natural that the fun of a dinner party extends into the most cherished of family rooms.
In 2013, the Times ran an article that spoke of “luxurious spaces” and “large, imaginative seating areas.” Not all kitchens are however designed the same, as space varies and built in eating areas can also be a premium in kitchen design. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t find yourself swaying between the dining, entertainment and kitchen areas when it comes to a good old Christmas Dinner party!
Now, it wouldn’t be unreasonable that you think a modern day Christmas dinner party should included the ‘After Eight Game’, but there is slightly more that you need to do. From planning on whom to invite to the drinks, food, more drinks and mingle topics and areas, no modern day Christmas dinner can go without some level of planning.
Felicity Cloake wisely said, “a great dinner party relies on a novel mix of guests – old friends, new acquaintances, people you’ve owed a dinner since the Silver Jubilee. Many people seek to invite those who have interests in common, although it helps the conversation along if they hold strong and opposing views on those interests.” Unlike, let’s say, your Facebook friends who always agree with you or one another, why not invite someone who you think would be great in a mix of people. If it’s a sit down meal, you may want to pair them with other couples or people with similar interests. If it’s a buffet style food and drink, then the more, the merrier is the rule of thumb.
The second, and most important port of call is what it is you’re going to serve as the first drink of the evening. Yes, you could start with a red or white wine as soon as someone has entered the home, but there is so much we could learn from the world of fine dining.
Take Fischer’s at Baslow Hall, Bakewell for example. Amongst the amuse bouche which has been so delicately crafted for when you arrive, you are also greeted with the question, “what would you like from the drinks cart?” Subsequent prodding points to a wealth of mixed drinks such as the classical, yet ever popular, Gin & Tonic. You can go down the route with a choice of whiskey’s or vermouth or simply spritzers which point to more refinement. Of course, the Aperol Spritz is not just a summer drink and would be welcomed over the festive period, but for something more punchy, why not go with a Negroni? Or even a Negroni sbagliato.
If anyone has seen Come Dine With Me, then it is obvious, prepare as much of your food before guests arrive. The last thing that anyone wants to do is wait around for you to roll out your pasta or still roast them fluffy, much loved, goose fat soaked potatoes. Some food as Roman scholar, Plutarch pontificated “should be worth waiting for” (maybe wasn’t about food but we’d like to think it was), instead, as the host, you should recognise, keeping people waiting could be the downfall of your Christmas dinner party journey.
The key then to such dinner party planning, especially Christmas themed events is to have the nibbles at the ready. Twiglets contain marmite and like Brexit, may split the room into two very angry camps. Crisps of any other nature can be fine, but they’re snacking for when the real canapes are served. A canape masterclass is thus the requirement for the ultimate dinner party. Polenta is now a secret weapon, modern takes on 70s classics like the prawn cocktails can foil the most ardent foodie and anything that involves the words such as straws, soldiers or mozzarella will have guests oooing and aaahhhing as a musical backdrop to your evening.
Of course, once food and conversation have been consumed and ushered through the labyrinth of Christmas dinner party etiquette, it’s now time to kick back and enjoy the surroundings. It could be the treasured island dinner area, the resting on granite/quartz or marble worktops or just throwing back into the snug quarters of any modern living dining section of the home.
Yes, drinks will continue to swill, from spirits to mixers, be sure with one eye that no one is getting your finest Montepulciano or Pinot and with the other, start to kick back yourself. You’ve prepared the food, you’ve made the evening great with your witty banter and organisation. Yes, there is washing to be done but that can be left to the morning after.
The only thing that could spoil this now is someone bringing up, Brexit, Donald Trump or dare go into a posthumous discography battle on who was best, David Bowie or Prince. Whilst a healthy debate on the year’s most surprising things could be a firestarter – possibly literally, politics and musician debates should be left for the comfort of your own mind in some cases. If you get stuck for topics of conversations or things are starting to head into a hedonistic lovefest of Nigel Farage and Trump impersonations, switch conversation by bringing out delicious mince pies, cheese boards or some fine port.
Christmas dinner party hosting need not be a hassle, but a healthy respect for good planning, good choice in food and drink and playlist that evokes Nat King Cole and Abba is an eclectic enough mix for dinner party success. Cheers!