How to host the perfect dinner party

Anna Barnett,-Chef & Cookbook Writer

Serving up a sumptuous supper for friends and fam is all kinds of heaven for chef and cookbook writer Anna Barnett. Here, she shares her hosting tips, must-have kit, and why presentation is about far more than knives and napkins

My long-standing commitment to hosting any kind of celebration (especially those that centre around food) was recently cemented when we invested in a far-too-large table for our kitchen-come-dining area. I stand by the notion that a kitchen does only half the job when hosting – it’s the dining table where everything comes to life and we see the true expression of the host.

For as long as I can remember I’ve cooked en masse. I’ve made five-course birthday meals for 30 people. A weeknight meal for two doesn’t simply exist in our kitchen; there will always be enough for eight and I have an endless Tupperware collection to prove it.

Throughout the pandemic my passion to feed – or to at least show people how to nourishthemselves – increased tenfold. I thrived on being able to share the experience of a great meal, albeit virtually. The high was exhilarating and the comedown of lonesome eating became a bizarre disconnect. I craved sitting around the table with friends and family. I’ve never appreciated the hours lost around a dining table quite as much as I do now.

A kitchen does only half the job when hosting – it’s the dining table where everything comes to life and we see the true expression of the host

Anna Barnett,-Chef & Cookbook Writer

Service, please

I have accumulated serving dishes over the years to suit specific favourite meals, andthe collection is ever growing to match whichever theme may take my fancy.

When it comes to dinner parties, dessert is taken care of in advance and will be plonkedon the table with minimal effort on my part. It’s worth putting the work in early so that hosting is your only priority on the night. 

Prepping for guests is a heady day of ‘enjoying’ the process, attempting to be both laissez-faire and as organised as can be, plus that final dash when you’ve run out of time because flower arranging took over.

The world of tablescaping has reached its peak and is now a standalone vocation. Themed tablescapes – by colour, season or just because it matches your gorgeous new tableware – are all big hitters when it comes to impressing dinner guests.

I have a commitment to timeless pieces that can fit into most themes and sit keenly within my kitchen. Your crockery collection is as important as staple wardrobe items you come back to time and again; invest in pieces you love and you’ll want to use them as often as you can.

Linens, napkins, glassware, candlesticks and serving bowls are a clever way to bring in vibrant colours

Anna Barnett,-Chef & Cookbook Writer

Crockery should always be kept on the neutral side, allowing your food to take centre stage – the Leckford Stoneware range (above) is the perfect example of a pared-back dinnerware service that’s plain enough to show off the food, but still has design details that add layers of interest.

Linens, tablecloths, napkins, glassware, candlesticks and serving bowls offer the chance to add vibrant colours to your setup, too. I’m mindful of creating a table layered with textures, working up from a linen tablecloth to natural place settings (woven, rattan or jute styles will pivot to most themes). Meanwhile, candles and vases elevate any table, as does a selection of eye-catching wine glasses.

Don’t forget to add statement pieces, like John Lewis’s blue and gold footed bowl for extra wow factor, too – they can become part of the fabric of your home long after the party ends.

Go double duty for the win

Cookware that is pretty enough to double up as serveware is a godsend when it comes tominimising the washing up, as well as impressing fans of family style dining at the table.

Crucial to any kitchen collection is a large cast-iron shallow casserole dish, which makes cooking for big numbers look effortless. Use for all sorts of slow-cooked meals – stews, casseroles, curries, bakes, stuffed vegetables, roasted meats... the list goes on.

That new dining table set? Now’s the time to invest in this key piece. Anything thatmakes a statement before you’ve added to it is a true bonus.

The John Lewis six-seater oak dining table (when reconfigured it can easily sit eight) is designed in-house and inspired by Japanese lattice screening. The supporting spindle trestles promote open-plan living too, elegantly dividing a space while letting light through.

I’m a big believer in investing in design-led pieces to ensure you’ll appreciate having it in your home day in, day out. After all, it’s more than just a table, it’s a blank canvas to showcase your creativity.

Use clean lines to complement complex cuisine

Charlotta Elgh, Home Design Director at John Lewis, agrees. ‘Beautiful tableware that is lovely to touch brings a great vibe to any meal, and the Leckford Stoneware set offers just that. White with clean lines, this range is the ideal complement for simple dishes and works perfectly with more complex cuisine. Designed in-house, the ridged styling is handcrafted, inspired by the delicate gills on mushrooms grown at the Leckford Estate in Hampshire, which has been farmed by John Lewis & Partners for more than 90 years. Delicate in looks yet robust in nature, the range is dishwasher and microwave safe, and includes everything from mugs to teapots, from just £3. 

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