Make a meal of it

The dinner party is back, but this is no help-yourself, peasanty- pasta affair. Today's home entertainers like to be dressed up to the nines - and that's just the table. James Sherwood reports

When The Blairs and Clintons shared a slap-up meal at Sir Terence Conran's Le Pont de la Tour restaurant, they obviously thought it was a thoroughly modern way to dine. For most professionals, limited time and a fistful of Diners Club cards is an excuse to eat out every night. But true urban moderns are rediscovering the pleasure of the dinner party. We are dining up rather than dining out: spending the restaurant budget on crockery, glasses, napkins and decorative objects that will last forever. People are taking pride in intimate, private evenings at home.

But while rough-and-ready pasta-pot gatherings are becoming a thing of the past, there's nothing stuffy about the new way of dining. London store Dickins & Jones has caught the new mood in dining-room style with its "At Home" collection, which covers the entire fourth floor. "Formal dining is being superseded by a more casual, innovative mood," says assistant buyer Susan Parry. "Few people buy - or can afford to buy - a complete dinner set. They want more fun, eclectic pieces, mixing colour, pattern and textures."

Today's customers shop for tableware the same way they would buy accessories: a scented candle by Gilles Dew Avrin, designed for specific hours of the day; a kitsch sequinned napkin for pounds 6; a Palais Royale, eau-de-nil porcelain plate edged with dull gold at pounds 33.50; funky silk organza napkins for pounds 25 a shot. "Dinner parties - and dinner settings - in the Nineties have to be fun. Who cares what fork you use?" says Parry.

Our more eclectic taste in food demands more from our tableware. Wedgwood just doesn't cut it for rice bowls and heavy crockery doesn't work with modern food. Gone are the days of the wedding- present table-set to last a lifetime. At Habitat, tableware is bought in the same seasonal spirit as high fashion. The plain white china (from pounds 3.95) and simple glasses (Botticelli from pounds 2.50) are reasonably priced and are made to last. This season, plastic is the big story; cheap, durable and in neon brights. "Young people are more design-conscious than their parents," says a Habitat spokeswoman, "and because everyone is more knowledgeable about food and wine, they want to present it in a modern manner."

"We have a limited amount of time these days," says Tyler Brule, editor of interiors bible Wallpaper. "So, when we're entertaining, it is usually post-work impromptu. I recommend no-fuss, plain, white tableware, with mountains of orchids as centrepieces. You need to get all your ingredients in Waitrose on the way home. And ply your guests with booze to give you that extra 45-minute buffer zone."

If the style gurus are into home cooking, then what hope the restaurant? Rebecca Mascarenhas, owner of Sonny's in Barnes, London, says, "Look at the popularity of the River Cafe cookbooks. People will always love to dine out, but they also love to recreate the dishes they eat at home. Public demand prompted us to open the deli next to Sonny's." Mascarenhas and her husband James entertain at least twice a week. "Dining at home is relaxing and infinitely less fussy than the whole restaurant experience. The crockery should be simple enough not to overwhelm the food so I stick to modern white plates. But I also have a collection of beautiful old cutlery. Everything on your table should be for using, not for show."

The new market for dinnerware has also prompted the established design houses to rethink their policy. Christofle in Hanover Square has been manufacturing French, silver-plated cutlery since 1830. A 12-setting canister may set you back pounds 3,000 even if it is guaranteed for three generations. "We don't expect most of our British customers to place an order for that kind of figure," says retail manager Ross Greenshield. "What we are doing is letting our customers know there are no rules and no accepted protocol any more. The only rule with tableware is that you should truly love it."

Because today's customer thinks about practicality as much as aesthetics, Christofle has a range of durable dishwater and microwave-proof, gilt- edged, dinner services. "If they don't go in the machine, people aren't interested," says Greenshield. In the past six months, Christofle has introduced couture crockery by fashion designer Christian Lacroix. As well as wealthy types buying whole sets, there are those Christofle customers who save up to buy a plate for pounds 34 with each month's pay.

The upper echelons of the dinner-service market have adapted well to the Nineties' market. Thomas Goode, by appointment to the Queen among others, used to be like the Victoria & Albert Museum with its frock-coated assistants and porters. "The old school feel has given way somewhat to a more comfortable, relaxed atmosphere," says designer Peter Ting. Prices are no longer prohibitive and the service is much more accommodating. A bespoke service, where you can design your own china, is attracting design conscious twentysomethings as much as those who want the family crest on their butter dish. One of the most desirable ranges is the KPM original, Forties, Bauhaus-style tableware, starting at pounds 40.

Those of us still nervous about throwing a dinner party or even buying our first crockery since 1970 - that is, all who have seen Abigail's Party once too often - could do worse than calling in the experts. Dinner party decorator Mackinlay Savy has been commissioned to organise everything from the grandest formal to the most intimate dinner a deux. It also sells the lion's share of pieces used in its decorative schemes. Hiring several sets is the way many modern hostesses choose their permanent collection crockery.

"I'm a great believer in decoration with a purpose," says Graham Mackinlay. People may think gothic bronzes and tactile little objects are too much. They are conversation pieces and also show that you have made an effort to entertain your guests with their surroundings." James Savy adds, "Our customers are dallying with more decadence than before. I'm not saying that all of our commissions are extravaganzas, but people want to have fun now and we give their party a frisson of excitement and daring."

The beauty of modern dinner parties is that you can create that frisson yourself as tableware becomes more a fashion purchase than an investment. If you've been paying attention, you'll know it can be both. Post work impromptu, anyone?

News
people
News
people
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Associate Recrutiment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

    Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

    £120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

    PMLD Teacher

    Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

    Day In a Page

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

    Time to stop running

    At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence