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 "Formal dining is being superseded by a more casual, innovative mood," says assistant buyer Susan Parry.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?

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
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

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £30,000+

    £16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for individual...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Project Coordinator / Manager

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

    Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

    £40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

    £20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

    Day In a Page

    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
    Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy