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 "Formal dining is being superseded by a more casual, innovative mood," says assistant buyer Susan Parry.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
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

    £600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

    Commercial Litigation Associate

    Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

    Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

    £65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

    Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

    Day In a Page

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little