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The secret to a great dinner party is preparation. You need to know what and how you’re going to serve your food, without stressing out too much about every detail. Cook something you’re familiar with to put your guests at ease, and try not to overcomplicate matters. More often than not, simple is best.
At my Malaysian supper clubs, I try to recreate the feel of an intimate dinner party. Last year, I hosted 14 people in my home for a charity supper and served nine sharing dishes plus pudding. Sharing plates feel more relaxed and are a great way to get guests to interact with each other. I served a selection of sambals, traditional curries, rice and salads.
Canapés aren’t essential, but they do prove you’ve gone the extra mile. Keep it simple but try to add your own twist on your canapés – for me, I like to add an Asian touch with spices or Malaysian ingredients. If in doubt, everyone always loves a blini.
Prep your starter the night before. During the summer, I serve a salad to start the meal off on a refreshing note – use whatever is in season. I love a peach and tomato salad made with basil, sherry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. You can also add cheese, like feta or burrata.
A seafood main course is perfect at this time of year. I like to grill or BBQ a whole fish, simply dressed with lemon, olive oil and herbs. You can serve this with whatever sides you like – garlicky potatoes and grilled seasonal veg work well – or go for a full seafood platter and pair it with scallops or prawns cooked the same way.
My signature pandan coconut cheesecake always goes down a storm. To make it, I whisk together cream cheese, double cream, coconut milk, pandan paste and sugar, then bake it in the oven until the top layer is slightly burnt. It’s simple and delicious.
To cook great South Asian food, get to know each spice. Find out what flavours work together and what element each spice brings to a dish. Start with turmeric, cumin and garam masala, then layer up your curries with other flavours like saffron and cardamom. Also, remember that Asian food doesn’t have to be spicy – use as much or as little as you prefer. It’s a great option if you have vegetarian guests. In terms of side dishes, a raita and tomato salad seasoned with salt and turmeric always hits the spot.
Impress your guests with an at-home bar. It should have a selection of soft and alcoholic drinks (I like to bring a bottle back from holiday to add to my collection), as well as a sturdy cocktail shaker and plenty of garnishes, like limes, fruit and sprigs of fresh herbs. I always serve a St-Germain Floral Gin & Tonic made with St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, gin and tonic water, finished with a slice of grapefruit and sprig rosemary. It’s such a simple cocktail and it’s not too sweet so you can enjoy its refreshing taste with your guests.
I always plan my tablescapes around the food I’m serving. For example, if I’m making Indian or South Asian food, I like to start with darker linens and napkins to allow for any curry spillages. Food and the table should work in unison, so you need to have some level of practicality in addition to it looking beautiful. For Mediterranean food, lighter linens and beeswax candles look great. To finish, add your favourite glassware and freshly cut flowers.
I live near Notting Hill which has lots of great delis for quality produce. I always buy my seafood from Notting Hill Fish Shop and Supermarket of Dreams which stocks fantastic fruit and vegetables. Its tomatoes are delicious and need little seasoning, unlike supermarket ones which can be quite bland.
Don’t forget to curate a relaxed playlist for your guests. I always find good recommendations on Spotify and add new songs whenever I find something suitable – my favourite dinner party playlist has a mixture of chilled beats, light jazz and mellow acoustic covers to set the ambience.