SUMMER 2013 ACK IN the 1980s, a dinner party was hard work. You needed two straight days to prepare, an intimate knowledge of nouvelle cuisine and cordon bleu, a sizeable pair of shoulder pads and a very large dining room table.
There was also a level of competition among hosts and hostesses which would make Come Dine With Me look like a casual get-together. Even if the results were amazing, the cook would be dissolving in a pool of sweat in the kitchen while guests nibbled on their sculpted courgettes.
In the past few years, dinnerparty trends have shifted markedly, mirroring those in the restaurant world. The trendiest new places in the West End tend to be small, deliberately informal, with a pared-down menu, often offering only one or two options. Entertaining is generally more casual now too, without the intricate table set- tings and elaborate menus. This does not mean that the quality of the food has suffered, simply that the person who is cooking it actually gets to enjoy the company of the guests, rather than merely slaving in the kitchen. Professional cooks generallly do not want the fuss of elaborate entertaining when they have been slaving in the kitchen all week, so what do they do when they have company at the weekend?
Fabienne Viner Luzzato is a cookery writer and teacher who also cooks dinner parties in people’s homes. But when friends come to visit, she likes it to be relaxed. “The only time I serve a formal dinner is on Friday night. If I have friends or family over on Saturday for lunch it will be very informal — lots of salads and meats set out on the table.”
If she has friends over on a week night then it will be equally casual but different in style — with what she calls “lots of little Ottolenghistyle things”.
This will consist of a few tapasstyle dishes. “These are things I can make beforehand that just need to be warmed, so I can be with my friends and not too much in the kitchen. I recently made some tiny chicken goujons with peanuts and caramelised red onion sauce and roasted aubergine with garlic purée, tomato and basil.”
She says that when she cooks at people’s homes for dinner parties, around half go for the casual approach, but many still want an old-school dinner party. “It depends on the style of the party, but if they want to impress they still go for starter,