Party animal magic

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Indy Lifestyle Online

In the family of party-animals, I rank just below a gerbil. Large gatherings are not my forte. Yet despite that emotional shortcoming, I was delighted to be asked to help organise a serious meal for 26 people.

In the family of party-animals, I rank just below a gerbil. Large gatherings are not my forte. Yet despite that emotional shortcoming, I was delighted to be asked to help organise a serious meal for 26 people. The occasion was the 40th birthday of my brother-in-law, Adam. His mum stumped up the cash. All I had to do was find a venue and make arrangements for food and drink.

Three letters immediately came to mind: BYO. You can get the most wallet-friendly quote for food from just about any restaurant, but alcohol inevitably turns it into megabucks. Without even opening Victoria Alers-Hankey's well-researched Capital BYO's: A Guide to London's Bring Your Own Wine Restaurants (VBAH Publishing, £4.95), I knew just the place. Heartstone in Camden, north London, serves excellent, health-and-seasonally-aware food, and allows you to bring your own wine. More to the point, finding a restaurant that usually closes in the evening, as this one does, means you can have the place to yourselves for dinner.

Choosing wine proved to be more of a challenge than I expected ­ until, that was, I experienced one blinding revelation: spend money at the beginning of the evening and save on later courses. People drink the apéritif on its own, when they're, um, level-headed. Table wines, by contrast, need be merely 'good enough', because they're drunk with food. This point may seem obvious to some. Not to me. My intuitive inclination had been to reverse charges, since my dream apéritif is Champagne ­ too expensive for a crowd if it's serious.

OK, off we went. Majestic was offering a deal on Pelorus, the Kiwi sparkler from Cloudy Bay which can give any low-end Champagne a run for its money. Around £12.95 if you buy six, so I ordered a case. Easy.

Table wines were trickier only because there was so much choice. However, it's easy to score at any good supermarket for between £5 and £7. (People with thicker wallets should go to a specialist merchant.) Picking Sainsbury's list at random, there is no shortage of good wines. I would choose two organics: Domaine de la Grande Bellâne 1998, Valréas (widely available, £5.99), on the red front, and Millton Gisborne Chardonnay 2000 (£6.99, also available elsewhere). I could choose others. In this sense, throwing a party has never been easier.

I got 50 per cent more red than white, thinking most people drink red; I was right. I projected average per-capita consumption of one bottle, but ordered six extra to be sure; the hosts took away six bottles. And everyone had a great time, though credit there also goes to the occasion ­ and to Heartstone. None the less, it's nice to be right.

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