The guide to host­ing a din­ner party

Irish Independent - Weekend Magazine - - Feature -

The fes­tive sea­son is a per­fect time to host an evening at your home — Katy McGuin­ness speaks to the ex­perts to find out how you can stand out from the crowd

This is the time of year when we are more likely to find our­selves invit­ing peo­ple over for din­ner in our houses, and the prospect can strike ter­ror into the hearts of in­ex­pe­ri­enced cooks and novice hosts. But it doesn’t have to be like that, if you heed the ad­vice of some of the most ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple in the restau­rant busi­ness — whose job it is to make peo­ple feel at home and make sure that they have a good time. Work­ing in the busi­ness doesn’t put restau­rant man­ager Denise McBrien off en­ter­tain­ing at home, when­ever she gets the chance. “At work I see how eas­ily things can be done,” she says, “which makes the prospect of do­ing it at home less in­tim­i­dat­ing. And I am def­i­nitely in the right job, be­cause I gen­uinely love host­ing peo­ple; the only dif­fer­ence is that at work I get paid for it.”

Denise will be a fa­mil­iar face from restau­rants around Dublin (in­clud­ing Pichet, which she founded with chef, Stephen Gibson, and her ex-hus­band, Nick Mu­nier) and Lon­don, and now runs front of house at The Old Spot on Bath Av­enue, Dublin.

She says that fuss-free en­ter­tain­ing at home is a dod­dle when you know how. “The first thing I’d say is to keep your num­bers man­age­able. Up to eight guests, I can man­age my­self, but if I’m hav­ing any more than eight at home, then I hire a chef and a waiter. Al­though I like go­ing to big par­ties, I don’t like host­ing them in my home — it feels like an in­va­sion — so I would never have a re­ally big gang. I prefer din­ner around the ta­ble.

“I have two tres­tle ta­bles that I bought from CaterHire that I set up when I am hav­ing peo­ple over. Most peo­ple, in­clud­ing me, don’t have room for a ta­ble for eight to be in place per­ma­nently. I have white ta­ble cloths from Pen­neys and I al­ways put two on, one on top of the other — the ta­ble feels more lux­u­ri­ous that way.

“I light scented can­dles an hour be­fore my guests ar­rive — French Linen Wa­ter from Max Ben­jamin is my favourite. I use it in the restau­rant too. That way if I burn any­thing — my house is open-plan — they’ll dis­guise the smell. I buy white roses from M&S for the ta­ble — they cost €5.50 and last for two weeks; you def­i­nitely don’t have to spend a for­tune on flow­ers. I have dim­mers on my lights and use them, be­cause women in par­tic­u­lar like nice light. And I set the ta­ble with match­ing glass­ware and cut­lery and use linen nap­kins. I think it’s im­por­tant that it looks as if you have made an ef­fort.”

When it comes to food, Denise says that she chooses dishes that don’t need much at­ten­tion. “Guests in your home don’t ex­pect restau­rant-stan­dard food,” she says, “but if you are a reg­u­lar in a restau­rant you can al­ways buy eight por­tions of a starter, main or dessert from the restau­rant and the restau­rant will give you in­struc­tions as to how to heat and serve it. It hap­pens all the time.

PIC­TURE: FRANK MCGRATH

Cheers to the per­fect evening: Denise McBrien pic­tured at The Old Spot in Dublin

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