The last time I gave a decent-sized drinks party, things started to mushroom quickly. Eight close friends became 12, then suddenly 24. As we were preparing the room, clearing away furniture and polishing glasses the BBC announced the late Queen’s serious illness, then death. People arrived in various states of shock, most people drank (a lot). I left the TV rolling with the news until about 8.30pm and then turned down the TV and lighting and turned on the music. It was a strange evening, uniquely memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Setting the scene for a party is much like a mini decorating job. Without wishing to take the fun out of it, in the same way that success on a big project hinges on working to a budget, the same applies to a small gathering for you to excel at the thing.
I entertain larger groups maybe once or twice a year, so when I do I feel I can be a bit more extravagant than when I had people over all the time. Then, it was more bring a bottle and fight over the Pringles. Having said that I apportion costs carefully and limit the options; I’d rather serve a good amount of something decent than a bit of this and a bit of that. Maggie Hoffman has written an excellent book called Batch Cocktails, which is incredibly useful for succeeding at just this.
I’ve organised fairly extravagant food that no one could be bothered to eat; one year we had boxes of hot appetisers from a local Indian restaurant, another time we had an entire paté en croute cut in small slices that looked incredible but was just a bit too much for people to deal with. In the end the best times have been when we’ve sat in the kitchen in the afternoon, julienning vegetables for crudités and blending dips, and added a choice of hot cocktail sausages.
For clients who entertain a lot we suggest stools that can live under side tables and be pulled out when needed. The Charlotte Perriand reproduction ‘Meribel’ is particularly good for this. And the final key component really is lighting: I have tea lights everywhere and strings of fairy lights in the kitchen that I use all year round anyway.