My editor asked me to write about how to throw the perfect dinner party.
But there’s a problem: while I host quite a few myself – and pull them off pretty well, I think – I don’t have much to compare them to.
You see, nobody ever invites me back.
I can count this year’s invitations on one hand (two, to be precise, and one of those I ended up doing the cooking). Who knows what amazing dinner parties people are throwing these days, what lavish accoutrements and flamboyant table decorations they’re whipping out? Not me, that’s for sure.
Still, there are some basic rules that should mean things won’t turn out to be a complete disaster.
1 – Have a clear cooking workspace
First up: tidiness. You should spend at least half an hour getting everything ready before you start any cooking. Organise your pots and pans. Put the seasoning and spices where they belong. You want to have everything to hand. Next find all the equipment you’re going to use and set it aside.
There’s nothing worse than getting to a critical moment in a dish and realising you have no idea where the sieve has gone. Getting everything spotless also means that when people inevitably end up gathering in the kitchen, they get a decent impression of your house.
If you have the luxury of a kitchen island, make use of it to prepare dinner. It means you don’t have to get everything ready in advance as you can turn cooking into a bit of theatre while people sit and watch. I have a hob on the island so I can do everything there, but even if you’re just preparing cold starters it’s much better than shouting through from the kitchen or cooking with your back to your guests.
2 – Get your shopping done early
I always start shopping a few days in advance. I love to shop and try not to have any preconceived ideas of what I’m going to serve until I’ve seen what’s available.
If you pick a recipe before you set off, you might end up being disappointed when you can’t get everything you need.
Head somewhere like Borough Market, where you never know what you’re going to stumble across.
When you’ve found a couple of hero ingredients you can start to build your menu around them.
If you’re buying meat or fish, ask the butcher or fishmonger what goes well with it – they’ll be happy to give you advice and will probably point you in the direction of another stall that sells it. You’ll come home with some great ingredients that are bang in season.
3 – Sharing is caring
As far as the structure of the meal, I’d go for a few sharing starters and even a sharing main – if it’s good enough for most new restaurants, why not for your guests? It sure saves a lot of time. Mezzo is about as easy as it comes, requiring virtually no preparation, and it’s always a hit.
4 – Make sure there’s plenty to drink
Finally, stock up on booze; people always drink more than you expect. Get some bottles of fizz – preferably English sparkling – for when people arrive, a selection of reds and whites and some digestifs for after. Remember: guests who are a little sloshed are usually happy guests, and they will be more likely to overlook any imperfections in your meal.
Mark’s new book, Hooked: Adventures in Angling & Eating, is available for £20 from any Hix Restaurant
All images credited to Getty unless specified