A no-fuss guide to transforming your home from run-of-the-mill dining to a fabulous restaurant experience for you and your friends.
We all love dining out somewhere rather grand – there’s something rather special about savouring the mouth-watering food that’s brought to your table as you while away the hours. But because it’s hard to regularly afford restaurant food, maybe it’s time to get out the good china and create your own gorgeous restaurant experience at home.
You may think it is easier said than done, but with plenty of thought and preparation, you can have a fantastic night and avoid more grey hairs. Creating an amazing dinner at home is about working within your capabilities and being realistic about your culinary skills. Obviously you need to plan a menu that suits the season, guests and your kitchen, so unless you are truly amazing, try and avoid something you have never made before or a recipe that you ‘remember’ reading in Cuisine. Chances are it may not quite end up looking like the picture!
If you choose a couple of courses you feel comfortable with and then choose great, fresh seasonal ingredients, you will be well on your way. If you are doing eye fillet, don’t scrimp on the quality and visit a good butcher; the few extra dollars will make all the difference. If the purse strings allow it, be generous with the quantities you buy. Also invest in good quality olive oil, rock salt, balsamic and your favourite condiments. Having a stack of ways to personalise the meal you’ve been served is one of the ways restaurants are such a treat – try and offer your dinner guests this in your home!
What is this Kiwi obsession with bread? In my opinion give the bread a miss as it just contributes to filling guests up and then they have no room for that dessert you slaved over. Of course dessert can be a challenge at the best of times, so maybe be creative and quirky and make some beautiful little petit fours, small bursts of sweetness rather than a baked Alaska.
If you are going to serve a little cheese at the end, you will need to get quality cheese, great crackers and some lovely quince. If your guests aren’t total lushes, then coffee is always appreciated. Stovetop or plunger is ideal, you may even have an espresso machine. Again, get the best quality and freshly ground.
Once you have your menu sorted, it all comes down to the planning and timing. You need to work through the practical flow of how it will all go on the night and a good idea is to work backwards. Dessert around 9pm, main course around 8pm, entree 7.30pm etc. Know your cooking times, so that various items will be ready together so as to avoid waiting for the kumara.
The other thing to bear in mind is that it isn’t a race and a welcomed break between courses is a great idea. We expect it in restaurants so build it into your evening.
The red meat-red wine, white meat-white wine rule is a lot more flexible now, however, do a little research and see what could be a good suggested match to your menu. Your guests will want to bring a little tipple so guiding them will help avoid ending up with eight bottles of riesling. Let’s also do bottled water – whether it’s still or sparkling is totally up to you, but don’t put fruit or ice in it!
Of course the fun and creative part is also about your dining table. You can be as fancy or minimalistic as you wish but use a table cloth, especially in these cooler months. Votives and flowers add to the atmosphere but always avoid fragrant candles. I personally believe white crockery always looks classic but you may wish to mix it up with some patterns and do the bohemian chic look. Glassware and cutlery needs to match and linen napkins add to that decadent touch. Don’t be shoving them in the wine glasses or I will personally come over and clip your gay wings!
To add to the ambience, think about your lighting and background music, make it comfortable and subtle and make sure your home is warm, not stuffy and certainly not on the chilly side. For goodness sake, check the bathroom and toilet! I will let you have a fragrant candle in these rooms.
Have fun creating your own dining extravaganza but be realistic – most of us are not lucky enough to be restaurant chefs and should not attempt a full on degustation if we’re not sure we can pull it off. Get fancy, but stay within the bounds of what you’re capable of doing.
And please, no napkins folded in the shape of swans.
| Campbell Stodart