From classic cocktails to cabanossi, party food is getting a retro twist.
Add a little vintage glamour to your entertaining this party season. GEORGINA SAFE reports on the retro trend that is seeing soirees serving fare from cabanossi to classic cocktails – all with a modern twist
It’s the time of the year when thoughts turn to unwinding over after-work cocktails, pool parties, beach barbecues, balmy sunset soirees and yes, even the dreaded office Christmas party.
But while the festive season is upon us, this year it’s with a decidedly retro twist. Punch is hip, vol-au-vents are back, classic cocktails are cool and retro food is being updated in sexy ways. So crack out the cabanossi, mix the martinis and get ready to party like it’s 1969.
“A vol-au-vent or a new take on apricot chicken is guaranteed to put a warm, fuzzy smile back on our dials, while vintage punches or classic cocktails capture the sophistication and elegance of a bygone age,” says Masterchef judge and delicious. senior editor Matt Preston.
Chef Dan Pepperell, who includes versions of classic French recipes such as chicken fricassee and oeufs en gelee on his menu at Sydney’s Restaurant Hubert, says the appeal of retro entertaining is its ability to evoke rose-tinted reflections.
“Retro is like a trip down memory lane when it comes to flavour combinations, places and people,” he says. “It’s comfort food that takes you back to happy times gone by.”
Old-school cocktails work well to kickstart the season – paper umbrellas and maraschino cherries optional.
“It’s a known fact that pina coladas taste 64 per cent better on the first day of your summer holiday,” laughs Chris Hysted-adams, general manager of Melbourne bar Black Pearl.
Start things off with a bowl of punch, suggests Luke Ashton, co-founder of Sydney bar This Must Be The Place. “The way people socialised in the ’60s and ’70s was much more centred around IRL [in real life] interactions rather than in the social media space, and people inevitably came together over the punch bowl,” Ashton says. “A retro-style punch is well suited to parties because it can be prepared ahead of time, is easy to execute and doesn’t require a bartender.”
He advises taking retro punch recipes and making them lighter and more refreshing by using cold-pressed juices and switching dark spirits such as rum for lighter options like Aperol and gin.
“You can even switch out your juices for lighter-style teas, coconut water or maple water, then replace syrups with shrubs [a tart syrup made from fruit and vinegar] and garnish your punch with fresh herbs like lemongrass or kaffir lime leaves,” Ashton says.
He reports a rise in the ordering of classic cocktails such as the martini, Old Fashioned, Manhattan and Brooklyn in his bar, as does Ryan Lane, general manager of The Gresham in Brisbane. “The Old Fashioned rules the roost and we would make well over 100 a night,” he says, while Hysted-adams serves up to 500 espresso martinis per week.
“It’s good to keep things relatively simple,” says Porteño and Bodega restaurants co-founder Elvis Abrahanowicz. “One punch and one cocktail is perfect.”
When it comes to what to serve with those drinks, choose a retro dish that has a personal memory for you.
“If your family didn’t serve cabanossi and cheese cubes stuck into a pineapple, don’t serve it,” says Jake Smyth, coowner of The Unicorn, Mary’s and the Lansdowne Hotel. “Retro is about reminiscing and reconnecting with the things that personally made you happy, so make something as close as you can to your grandfather’s four-bean-mix salad or your nanna’s ’70s tuna casserole, but give it a contemporary twist.”
Doing retro well is about taking the best memories and cutting out the bad.
“My parents would get any old chook and cook it terribly, but at the Unicorn we use free range Bannockburn chickens and really focus on cooking them well,” Smyth says.
Matt Preston gives a sophisticated edge to devils on horseback, for which he par-cooks baby brussels sprouts then grills and wraps them in bacon and serves them with a very up-to-date miso almond butter, but generally he prefers communal dishes over fiddly finger food.
“I’d rather serve a shared retro main dish, as the problem with retro canapes is they can be fiddly and very timeconsuming to make,” he says.
Pepperell says a fondue is always a fun shared party dish, and also suggests covering a watermelon with skewers of olives, cheese, anchovies and pickled peppers as a striking finger food option.
“There’s also a weird one I did once called ‘ants on a log’ where you fill a piece of celery with brandade then put little bits of olives on the top to look like ants on a log,” he laughs.
Trends inspired by the classics is something we’ve explored in delicious. as Editor-in-chief Kerrie Mccallum explains: “We have noticed so many retro favourites being made more sophisticated. In our December issue [out now] of the monthly magazine we’ve modernised the traditional trifle – think rhubarb and gingerbread – and updated the punch with new blends. I can’t wait to pull out the punch bowl.”
Then finish the night in style. “The perfect dessert cocktail is the espresso martini,” says Grey Goose vodka global brand ambassador Joe Mccanta. His recipe combines Grey Goose, fresh espresso coffee, a dash of coffee liqueur and a pinch of sea salt. “Give it a really great shake and serve into a cocktail glass and enjoy the foamy crema.”
VINTAGE VIBE Bring back quiche with our revamped sweet potato, feta and caramelised onion version. Recipe at delicious.com.au