Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dinner Parties

The Daily Telegraph reported this week that the dinner party is officially extinct: it's now all about the informal kitchen supper, al fresco dining, 'pot luck' dinners and a general foodie-free-for-all. There have been comment pieces by writers thrilled that the hostess no longer has to worry about caramelising the onions in time, the guests don't have to agonise between bringing flowers, wine or a scented candle and no one is left perturbed by stiff linen napkins, pouring the wine in the wrong glass or passing the port to the right.

In one sense - yes. This kind of formal dinner party is over - the one where the hostess strains to impress with her knowledge of olde worlde etiquette and cordon bleu dining (which involves a lot of sugar cages and not a lot of taste) and the guests struggle to maintain a classy froideur whilst hoovering up several bottle of Chateau Plonk.

I ruined my 20s by being far too serious about being a grown-up: my only social aspiration was to throw a really successful dinner party. To have a dinner party, in other words, would testify that I was A Sophisticated Adult. I would blow all my money on foodstuffs from Harrods and crystal glasses from Peter Jones, for a bemused set of family and friends who only really wanted a bit of spag bol and chatter, followed by some drunken dancing until 4am. (I usually managed the drunken bit but quickly sobered when an arrogant young heir asked which bedroom he would be going to that night - mine or my flatmate's?)

But dinner parties now are no less frightening - in fact, the lack of formality means there is no structure on which even the least socially able can hook their hang-ups. A supper party in 2009 means we must source the best local food, cook with the ability of a divine cross between Nigel, Jamie and Nigella, invite a mix of old friends and the newly powerful, have everyone lounging around in an enormous kitchen (at least before everyone was hidden in the dining room, away from the carnage and the hastily unwrapped Marks & Spencer ready meals) which has been artfully decorated in the manner of a bohemian artiste who has not only inherited stag heads and armchairs covered in ticking but has picked up clever little pieces from her frequent trips to Delhi and Peru. No one can leave early because all the children are asleep in the garden in a Cath Kidston tent and, besides, the drugs come out at midnight.

Come back Margot and Jerry - all is forgiven.

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