5 Dinner Party Hacks to Impress Your Foodie Followers
Jamie Walker – Head Chef
Throwing a dinner party is no mean feat. Throwing a dinner party knowing that your guests are set to snap pictures of every dish you plate up, only to then share it with thousands and hashtag the hell out of it – well, that’s just daunting. So how do you concoct something that’s sure to impress the five salivating folk in front of you, as well as the millions of foodie followers that are about to judge your culinary creation? With a bit of kitchen know-how, it’s surprisingly straight forward…
Having been lucky enough to work at some of the country’s finest establishments, I’ve spent years honing my skills alongside many a talented chef. Picking up a few tricks of the trade along the way, my time spent at the likes of London’s 5* The Dorchester and Playboy Mayfair as well as the beautiful Cameron House on Loch Lomond, has served me well in appreciating what goes into making a plate of food beautiful, both inside and out.
Now heading up Alea Glasgow’s stylish Waterfront Restaurant, this understanding has gone a long way in elevating our dishes to social media superhero status, all the while pleasing our discerning diners. Having just launched our new menu, I’m thrilled to be dishing up brand new plates that are both visually exciting and erupting with flavour – and with a few key hacks, I want to show you just how easy it can be!
Set the scene
Before we get down to the food, let’s rewind one step and think about the importance of your surroundings. Whilst spag bol in front of the TV sounds appealing for a Monday night tea, the sofa just won’t cut it if you’re planning on serving up soy and honey roasted duck breast to a hoard of hungry (and Instagram-obsessed) diners. Creating the perfect ambiance has to be one of the most important factors when serving up a truly memorable meal, with small touches like lighting a candle or colour-coordinating your crockery going a long way.
This is something that our Waterfront Restaurant values enormously. We’re incredibly lucky to boast such a spectacular setting – right on the Clyde’s riverside and overlooking the city’s skyline, you’d be hard pressed to find a more beautiful spot – but complementing that setting and indeed ensuring we live up to it, has to be one of our priorities.
Keep your table clean and free of clutter, with only the essentials on display, and if you can, use fine linen to add a touch of class. Include pretty and polished glassware, as well as finishing touches like fresh florals or a candle to set the mood. Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to whip out the ketchup bottle – if you’re serving accompaniments, dish them up in dainty bowls. It might sound like a lot of faff, but trust me, making these small gestures really makes a difference.
Use the best ingredients you can get your hands on
If you begin with top quality produce, the end result is sure to be something special! This is certainly true of our new menu – we source as many of our ingredients as possible from reputable suppliers that we know and trust, utilising the incredible array of ingredients that we’re lucky enough to have on our doorstep.
Prep, prep, prep!
A sure-fire way of owning any dinner party is knowing exactly what you’re going to cook, how you’re going to cook it, and giving yourself enough time to cook it! That’s where preparation takes centre stage… the more help you can give yourself in advance, the easier it’ll be. If you’re looking to really elevate a dish and produce something with intricate, Instagram-pleasing details, these take time and patience, so whatever you do, don’t rush them!
Take our braised lamb shoulder with parsley mash and honey-roasted root vegetables as the perfect example – whilst some cuts of meat demand last-minute cooking, lamb shoulder can be braised hours in advance which a) gives you more time to be the hostess with the mostess come your guests’ arrival and b) allows the lamb time to tenderise and cling on to all of its beautiful juices.
When it comes to pernickety but pretty details like veg, don’t leave cutting carrots into perfect 5cm cubes to the last minute – do this well in advance and leave to soak in cold water until you’re ready to cook. Combined with a little plating up know-how (keep reading…), you’re sure to serve up something that boasts everything a foodie fan could dream of.
Recipes you can trust
Like most chefs, I have a trusty recipe book that has been with me for more years than I care to remember; the cover is torn and stained, the pages are congealed together, the recipes are littered with my own scribbles around them. Nevertheless, it’s stuck with me and stood me in good stead all this time. One of the most popular dishes on our brand new Waterfront menu comes from this very book; an all-time favourite pudding that’s dinner party friendly and pretty pleasing on the eye. Stick to recipes like this and you’re sure to impress foodie friends time and time again…
Passion fruit crème brûlée (serves 4)
- 375ml double cream
- 125ml milk
- 5 egg yolks
- 100g caster sugar, plus extra for the topping
- 1 vanilla pod
- 1 passion fruit
- Split the vanilla pod length ways with a sharp knife and scrape the seeds using the tip of the knife
- Place the double cream and milk in a saucepan, adding the vanilla seeds and split pod to the liquid mixture, and bring to a simmer
- In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar with an electric hand whisk for about 1 minute
- Once bubbles appear round the edge of the liquid mixture, take off the heat and pour into the egg and sugar mixture, stirring with a wire whisk as you do so (make sure you scrape the seeds from the pan)
- Split the passion fruit in half and scrape the pulp into the hot cream mixture, stirring to incorporate
- Once combined, skim any foam from the mix and then pass through a fine sieve
- Line up brûlée moulds in a roasting tin lined with cloth, then carefully divide the hot cream mixture between each mould
- Form a bain-marie by pouring hot water into the tin to reach 1.5cm up the sides of the moulds
- Bake in a 180°C pre-heated oven for 40 minutes or until springy
- Rest for at least 1 hour until completely cooled and store in the fridge until time of serving
- Just before serving, sprinkle the remaining caster sugar over the top, ensuring to cover the entire cream mixture, and then use a blow-torch to caramelize
- Plate up alongside a piece of homemade coconut shortbread and fresh pineapple and kiwi salsa
Feeling inspired? Make sure you check out the rest of our Waterfront Restaurant menu for more mouth-watering plates!
Plate like a pro
Last but by no means least, plating your dish with a touch of finesse is a sure-fire way to impress. Approach this like a mathematician – be accurate, precise, methodical, and always think about balance on your plate. For example when assembling your main course, consider the ratio of protein to starch and iron; think about the textures on the plate, contrasting crispy with soft and so on; and consider your colours, allowing the main element of your dish to really pop by surrounding it with complimentary shades.
When it comes to putting food on the plate, start from the inside and work your way out, keeping things neat and tidy as you go. Consider portion control and don’t over crowd things (you want the main ingredients to really shine), and almost always plate up with odd numbers, not even. Abide by these simple steps and you’re sure to serve up divine looking dishes that will excite and tantalise your guests.
Just like that, you’re throwing the dinner party to end all dinner parties, plating up gorgeous food that’ll be devoured by your diners and scoffed by social media. Looking for more inspiration? Don’t forget to visit us at the Waterfront Restaurant and see what you make of our brand new menu!