How To Throw A Virtual Dinner Party

Whether you’re celebrating a birthday or just fancy some much-needed time with friends and family, virtual dinner parties are all the rage. From décor and camera etiquette, to theming and cocktails, two top hostesses tell us how to create a night to remember – while a top chef offers a multi-course menu your guests can make at home…

HOSTING: Laura Whitmore, Radio DJ & TV Presenter

Now is as good a time as ever to celebrate with friends and family. Start by agreeing a theme – it provides endless possibilities for the menu, decorations and drinks pairings. It’s also a great excuse to dress up for dinner. I’m born on 4th May (Star Wars Day), so for my virtual birthday party we had a Darth Vader cake and out-of-this-world cocktails. It was great to raise a glass with friends and family over the internet.

Don’t overthink it. Hosting guests virtually doesn’t need to be complicated. Agree a date, time and a dish for everyone to make. Part of the fun when hosting a virtual dinner party is seeing what everyone brings to the table, so why not ask your guests to create a dish with the theme in mind so you can virtually compare? 

Make an effort with cocktail making. A Cosmopolitan is a favourite – it’s a classic cocktail which looks really impressive but is actually super-easy to make. Add a zesty twist by using Grey Goose L’Orange mixed with Cointreau, cranberry juice, a squeeze of lime and an orange twist. You can even flame the orange zest if you’re feeling fancy. 

Don’t overthink it. Hosting guests virtually doesn’t need to be complicated.

Get creative with cocktails. Kick off a meal with a Le Grand Fizz – it’s super simple to make and so refreshing. Just add Grey Goose vodka, fresh lime juice, St-Germain (or any elderflower liqueur) and cold soda water. Build into a wine glass with lots of ice and serve with a fresh lime wedge.

Check the lighting. It's key for creating an ambient setting. Use a mix of candles and lamps to get the perfect glow. I’m also a huge fan of natural night. The weather has been so great recently, so I’ve really enjoyed maximising the lighter evenings when socialising with friends and family online.

Position your camera at the end of the table to ensure guests can see you and your lovely table setup. Always do a quick tech test ahead of time, to check there’s no glare and that everything works before you kick off.

Laptop vs phone? Either works! A laptop tends to be sturdier but a phone works just as well – use a stand if you have one, otherwise a pile of books can help elevate your camera setup and ensure you capture the room – and household – in full. 

Keep it intimate. It’s natural to want to host everyone at once, but when it comes to virtual dinner parties, the smaller the group the better. It allows for a more intimate experience and easy conversation. You can always do a few Zoom groups and host multiple parties. Generally speaking, five guests/households works well.

Choose your playlist wisely. Background music can help you feel like you’re in your favourite bar or restaurant. Jazz classics or a chill mix playlist work well, but nothing too loud as it can distract from conversation. 

Get dressed up. A virtual dinner party is a great opportunity to make use of that nice dress or top you’ve been saving for a special occasion. A bit of red lippy and a touch of sparkle are my go-to accessories, and the good news is you can keep your slippers on, and no one will even know.

Go-to dishes should definitely include fajitas – they are so easy. Nothing beats a homemade guacamole with nachos and salsa. The secret is loads of fresh lime, coriander and a sprinkling of red onion. Close your eyes and you could be at a Mexican fiesta.

Simple additions can help elevate your virtual dining experience. Make use of items you have around the home to complement the setting: house plants make a great substitute for fresh flowers and a mix of different sized candles can create a really lovely ambiance.

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ATMOSPHERE: Sophie Elliott & Cloe Bueso, The Sette

The most important thing is to have fun and not take it too seriously. You want to create an environment that makes people feel special and comfortable, which means they will stick around a little longer (even on Zoom). The table is all about connecting with old friends and family in more meaningful ways, creating memories and being present in the moment. Don't be too strict with rules when it comes to aesthetics, it totally depends on the situation and occasion. 

Candles and flowers add that final touch to any table. It’s always fun to surprise guests in different ways, which we normally do with personal place settings and menus or small surprises on the table. Seeing as dinner parties are virtual at the moment, we suggest playing a fun party game or starting the video call a little earlier to finish laying the table alongside your friends and family, sharing tips and tricks with each other.

You want to create an environment that makes people feel special and comfortable.

No one likes bright overhead lights at dinner, so lighting is definitely something to consider. Candlelight really helps set the mood, even if it's just on Zoom. 

Opt for varying heights along the table. Use lower candlestick holders with tall candlesticks (our favourites are the colourful swirl candles from The Edition 94) mixed with bud vases. You just need to make sure that whatever is on the table isn’t blocking the camera! 


COOKING: Ben Tish, Norma

A summer dinner party can easily transport you off to somewhere exotic in the Med in the absence of a holiday this year. The menu below is very easy to put together and can nearly all be done in advance, so each household can prep before and not have to worry about it once your virtual evening starts. Other than perhaps just cooking the chops a few minutes before you dine, everything else can be prepared and plated in advance.

Serve this kind of meal as sharing dishes – on larger plates and your favourite platters. Previously, our dinner parties were usually very informal, lively and sometimes raucous affairs – as they should be! A martini is always a good start, and my apple and cumin martini really hits the spot. The cumin introduces the theme for the following food and works beautifully with the stuffed olives.

COCKTAIL: Apple & Cumin Martini


  • 1 apple, peeled, cored and cut into small pieces

  • 2 tbsp of brown sugar

  • ½ tsp of cumin seeds, roughly ground in a pestle and mortar

  • 1 tsp of raw cider vinegar

  • 150ml of water

  • 250ml of quality gin

  • 40ml of Italian vermouth


  1. Put the apples and sugar into a small pan over a low heat until it starts to caramelise. Add the crushed cumin and cook for 3 minutes before adding the vinegar. 

  2. Reduce to a glaze, then add the water and cook for 5 minutes until reduced by half. 

  3. Blend until smooth. 

  4. Leave the puree to cool and chill. It should infuse for at least a couple of hours.

  5. Fill a shaker with ice. Pour over the vermouth, followed by the gin and then the puree. Shake vigorously about 15 times and then strain through a sieve into chilled martini glasses.

  6. Garnish with a thin slice of apple and sprinkle of cumin seeds.

CANAPÉ: Burrata On Sourdough

This is a magic combination – ultra creamy and rich burrata served on a piece of smokey sourdough and finished with a crunchy aromatic spice mix. I love serving this as a starter for a summery dinner. If you can’t find burrata then a fresh buffalo mozzarella will do nicely.


  • 4 small burrata, as fresh as can be and at room temperature

  • 4 small slices of sourdough

  • 1 tbsp of coriander seeds

  • 1/2 tbsp of fennel seeds

  • 20ml of white wine vinegar

  • 2 medium sweet oranges, peeled, pith removed and halved

  • 1 tsp of caster sugar

  • Handful of fresh fennel herb or dill

  • Extra virgin olive oil

  • Sea salt and black pepper


1. Sprinkle the orange halves with the sugar on the cut side and rub in. leave to marinade for 5 minutes. Heat a medium sauté pan over a medium heat and place in the orange halves cut side down. Lower the heat slightly and leave to caramelize for 8-10 minutes – without moving – so as to really colour the oranges to a deep dark caramel- almost burnt. Turn off the heat and leave the oranges to cool in the pan.

2. Lightly crush the fennel and coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar and then place in a small saucepan and cover with olive oil. Heat the seeds and oil over a low heat until the oil starts to bubble and the seeds lightly fizzle. Immediately remove from the heat, add the vinegar and the caramelized orange juices in the sauté pan.

3. Drizzle the bread with olive oil and cook over a griddle pan to char.

4. Drain the burrata, carefully pat dry and season well. Place a burrata with a piece of orange on the bread, spoon over the spice- oil dressing and then scatter over the

fresh fennel herb.

STARTER: Stuffed Courgette Flowers

Courgette flowers are perfect vessels to stuff and then either steam or fry. They are very delicate and need a little TLC, so you don’t want to rip the petals, otherwise the stuffing will fall out. They are perfect for a party and never fail to impress.


  • 4 large courgette flowers, stamens carefully removed

  • 50g of soft sheep’s (or goat's) cheese at room temperature

  • 100ml of runny orange blossom honey

  • 12 mint leaves

  • 2l of vegetable oil for deep-frying

  • Pinch of sea salt

For the batter:

  • 200g of plain flour, sifted

  • 2 tsp of baking powder

  • 500ml of cold sparkling water

  • 1 tsp of ground cumin


  1. First make the batter. Whisk the water with the flour, cumin and baking powder until smooth. The consistency will be quite loose. Cover with cling film and rest at room temperature.

  2. Divide the cheese into 4 balls and then very carefully insert into the flower cavities along with a mint leaf. Pull the petals up and lightly twist to seal in the cheese. Fold the twists to the side of the flower and place twist side down on a tray. Cut a slit into the stalk, half-way up. Place in a fridge for 20 minutes to set.

  3. Heat the oil in a fryer or tall-sided pan to 180°C. You can check this with a dollop of batter – it will fizz and turn golden brown when ready.

  4. Remove the flowers from the fridge and place in the batter and ensure they are fully coated.

  5. Carefully place the flowers one by one in the oil, flower first. Hold the flower head in the oil for a few seconds to seal and then drop fully into the oil. Cook for 3 minutes turning once until a light golden brown. 

  6. Remove from the oil, drain well and then serve drizzled with honey, sea salt and sprinkled with more mint leaves.

SIDE: Tomato Salad With Radish, Green Chili, Lemon & Toasted Coriander Seeds

I like a selection of tomatoes in a salad – colours and shapes but also textures and sweetness/acidity. Green tomatoes are firm, crunchy and quite sharp but great alongside some super-sweet cherry wine tomatoes.


  • 500g mixed seasonal tomatoes, stalks removed and eyes from larger tomatoes

  • 1 large green chilli, deseeded and finely sliced

  • 1 tbsp of coriander seeds

  • ½ tsp of sumac

  • 12 breakfast radishes, leaves intact and washed

  • 75ml of extra virgin olive oil

  • 50ml of chardonnay or muscatel vinegar

  • Juice of 1 lemon

  • Sea salt and black pepper


  1. Firstly prepare the tomatoes. Cut the smaller tomatoes in half and the larger tomatoes into 1cm rounds with a serrated knife. Place the tomatoes in a bowl, season with salt, pepper and the sumac and squeeze over the lemon juice. Toss well and leave to marinate for 10 minutes.

  2. Place the coriander seeds in a pan and toast them for 2-3 minutes until fragrant, then immediately transfer them into the tomatoes. 

  3. Cut the radishes into four, lengthwise, with the leaf and mix these into the salad along with the chilli.

  4. Whisk together the extra virgin olive oil and vinegar and stir this into the salad. Serve.

MAIN COURSE: Mackerel With Cucumber, Yogurt & Fennel

This dish was inspired by a lunch I had in Cordoba in Andalucía on a baking hot July day – pickled cucumbers served with piping hot grilled mullets and a dollop of yogurt on top. I’ve chosen mackerel, as its simply one of my favourites, but choose any meaty fish for this.


4 mackerel fillets, skin lightly scored with a sharp knife

4 very small cucumbers, trimmed and peeled into strips or 1 medium cucumber,

trimmed, center removed and peeled into strips

90ml of water

80ml of white wine vinegar

2 tsp of caster sugar

½ tsp of saffron threads,

16 green seedless grapes

16 black seedless grapes

100ml of thick Greek yogurt

Handful fennel herb or dill

Olive oil, sea salt and black pepper


1. Heat an oven to 120ºc.

2. Place the water, sugar, saffron and vinegar in a pan and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat; pour over the cucumbers and cover. Transfer to the fridge for at least anhour before serving.

3. Cut the grapes in half lengthwise, place on a tray, drizzle with a little olive oil and then sprinkle with sea salt. Place in the oven and dry out for 30 minutes – the grapes

should have slightly shriveled.

4. Heat a large non-stick sauté pan over a medium heat and add a lug of olive oil. Season the mackerel fillets and when the oils hot place the fish in, skin side down carefully pressing the fish down to flatten them as they bow. Cook for 4 minutes until the skin has browned and crisped and then flip the fillets over and cook for a further 2 minutes until the fish is just cooked through.

5. To serve spoon the yogurt onto serving plates, then add the pickled cucumber, salted grapes and the mackerel. Sprinkle over the fennel herb and serve.

PUDDING: Grilled Peaches With Lavender Honey

Yellow peaches are naturally slightly firmer than white peaches and are therefore better on the grill. A faint scent of smoke and some charring works wonders with the already delicious fruit, taking into different realms.


  • 4 firm medium peaches, cut in half and destined

  • 2 tbsp of lavender honey (regular honey works too)

  • 1 tsp of fresh or dried lavender flowers for garnishing (optional)


  1. Once the peaches are de-stoned, place in the fridge uncovered for an hour to naturally dry – this will aid the grilling.

  2. Grill the peach halves on the flat side for 2 minutes over a low grill until nicely charred, then turn over and grill for a further 2 minutes. The peach should still be fairly firm.

  3. Remove from the grill and divide between serving plates.

  4. Spoon over the lavender honey and sprinkle over the lavender flowers if you’re using. Top with a scoop of the ice-cream and serve.

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