Gone are the days of Cordon Bleu dinner parties, sweating over restaurant-style presentation and plating up individual portions of each course. A new approach to entertaining friends at home has trickled from the catering world to our dining tables and it’s more social, more fun and far less stressful. Enter the sharing platter. Lara Jackson from catering company Social Pantry has seen a rise in popularity of this way of cooking in recent years and she believes it’s the best way to feed a crowd these days. “It’s such a flexible way to entertain, and because you can make so much of it ahead of time you can stop and talk to people when they arrive,” she explains.
People can pick and choose what they want to eat, which is by far the simplest way of addressing your friends’ dietary requirements. “Sharing platters give your guests the option to choose what they want to eat and everyone can enjoy the freedom of serving their own portions according to how hungry they are,” notes Lara. This also means there’s less food waste as people tend to only take what they want, so leftovers can be popped back in the fridge and enjoyed another time.
This way of eating lends itself to groups of familiar friends as well as new faces, as food is a fantastic ice-breaker among strangers. “The Italian influence of family-style dining is clear with sharing platters and there’s a social aspect people love,” says Lara. Felicity Mellor, head of events at catering company Chilli Bees agrees. “It’s more fun to have food laid out on the table and when it looks great, it’s a real talking point,” she says. “We recently had a whole salt-baked seabass as a centerpiece with lots of salads and even a fillet of beef for meat lovers on the side. The food certainly kept the conversation flowing.”
What to serve
So where do you begin and what food works best? For a starter, antipasti meats and cheeses work well before the main course. Toria Smith, owner and creative director at Grape & Fig, which specialises in grazing tables, suggests serving up to three cheeses as a centrepiece, with a selection of meats, antipasti, nuts, olives, dips and crackers dotted between. “A slice of honeycomb on top of a round of brie looks amazing and I’d stick to one type of cracker,” she adds. This approach is especially successful if you want your guests to mingle over their first few drinks and casually take bits to nibble on from a table.
When it comes to the main course, don’t be afraid to marry cultures together. “Why not take your favourite restaurant food as inspiration? You could serve some Asian-inspired slaw with barbecued beef if that’s your thing,” says Felicity. Lara agrees that outdoor dining with the theatre of the barbecue lends itself to the sharing platter scene. “Make large salads in advance and add to them with food from the grill, such as octopus, prawns and par-grilled vegetables.” Marinated chicken pieces, a sliced leg of lamb, a rib of beef or a whole fish certainly have the wow factor and benefit from a supporting cast of sides which harness the season’s offerings.
As sharing is caring, don’t forget to pull out all the stops on dessert – you want a showstopper that will get mouths talking as well as watering. “You can’t beat a big pavlova with a large bowl of fresh fruit and possibly a chocolate option as well,” Lara advises. “If you’re serving something that needs to be sliced, do that in advance so people can help themselves easily.”
Finally, don’t forget to make sure your table and dishes look the part. “Make sure you have beautiful dishes but don’t worry if they aren’t all the same – a mix-and-match style lends great charm – and for outside dining enamelware works well (check out Falcon for hardwearing, stylish options),” adds Lara. Finishing touches could include edible flowers, vibrant herbs and sliced fruit.
So, next time you have people over, why not try sharing platters? You’ll be able to enjoy the party as much as your guests, and if you needed one more reason to give them a go – they’ll be delicious as leftovers the next day!