The eternal triangle

Party food can be the pits. Why doesn't someone talk to the caterers?
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NOBODY SHOULD be forced to eat food they can't see. There I was last night on the barely moonlit balcony of an author's home at a book launch when I was offered a plate of dark triangular things. Two glasses of cheap sparkly wine down and no dinner in sight, I was desperate enough to eat one. "What was that?" hissed a voice from the shadows. "Um," I said, trying to be helpful. "Pizza? Quiche? Carpaccio?" The voice got hostile. "What did it taste like?" "Er," I said. "Triangular."

Moving into the light did nothing but illuminate the fact that all the food at this party was either deep-fried, soggy, toxic, or all three. Some of it, like the inevitable wontons, had been deep-fried earlier in the day and reheated in the oven, which made their little purse tops as crunchy as discarded razor blades. Some of it had been deep-fried earlier in the day and not reheated, which made it soggy. Then there was the "wasabi scorched tuna", which was like putting a mini crematorium in one's mouth. And taking it out again immediately. Thank heavens we were on a balcony.

The night before that was a magazine launch, on a floating pavilion whipped by bitter winds. The waiters carried gondola-shaped trays lined with small deep-fried things, and cried out "incoming" as they launched their spear- headed weapons into each swarm of guests. Others carried bamboo tubes in which were inserted bamboo cones of deep-fried cuttlefish and chopsticks. You took a cone in one hand, and the chopsticks in the other, and held your glass in the other. Yeah, right. Then there was nowhere to put the cone when you had finished. Thank heavens we were on a floating pavilion.

I am seriously considering never attending another book launch, gallery opening, christening,unveiling, dedication, preview, or any social gathering of any kind that vaguely resembles a cocktail party. Excepting a wake, because people always get fed properly at a good wake. Generally speaking, if I'm in a group of well-dressed people having a drink and I eat something marvellous, like a fresh chicken sandwich, I know someone has died.

It's time we had a quiet word in the ear of the caterers. Ratatouille is not a finger food. Neither is risotto. Nor Thai green chicken curry. Tart shells go soft when filled in the morning and left to stand until the cocktail hour. Nori rolls need something in them other than rice to make them interesting. Wasabi scorched tuna is not a good idea.

Some foods work the room better at parties than others. Asparagus in most forms is good, sushi isn't too bad, Vietnamese fresh rice paper rolls can be delicious and oysters, as long as they are freshly opened , are perfect. To anyone planning a big-budget event, I have three words for you: oysters and Champagne. And three more: lots of both.

The genesis of the cocktail party is only too obvious: all those birthday parties we attended as children. You remember - you dress up in something silly and uncomfortable that you're not allowed to get dirty, and you are forced to talk to people you have nothing in common with except your age. You get over-excited, drink too much and probably throw up on the way home. The pattern was set.

Yet by the time the next party rolled around, some deeply diabolical, biological function had programmed us to forget the burst balloons, the dropped cake and the broken presents. Suddenly there we were again, standing still while mum combed a neat part in our hair, getting excited all over again. That pattern, too, was set.

Because, now that I come to think of it, those eggshell-thin, crisp pastry tarts with the cauliflower cream topped with caviare at the charity auction last week were quite dreamy. As for tonight's retrospective, and tomorrow night's new mobile phone launch, I find myself quite looking forward to them.