Ever since I was little, I’ve really wanted to run my own B&B. I think I was maybe 6 or 7 when I first stayed in one; it was in Norfolk and I remember the selection of cereals fondly. I liked the idea of having a big house which strangers would come to stay in (there must be some sort of bizarre childhood innocence at play there, I remember being similarly obsessed with the idea of wanting to pick up hitchhikers on long car journeys) and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still sometimes daydream about running a B&B now.
Whilst the idea of my own miniature hotel will probably never be more than a fantasy, I get my hosting fix where I can. It’s rare for a week to go by where somebody doesn’t stay with us and I usually go a bit overboard with miniature jams, wrapped soaps and guest slippers. I haven’t started asking for comment cards on departure, but I suspect I’m not far off.
So when I saw on Twitter that Denby and John Lewis were hosting a masterclass in “the art of entertaining” I signed myself right up. The tickets were free and it was only down the road at Peter Jones, so I thought it seemed like a nice way to spend a Monday evening.
And what a nice evening it was! There were sessions on everything from the history of the dinner party to food styling for Instagram, but it was the cookery classes and table laying tips that I was really keen on.
I started off with a canape demonstration from Anna Barnett where she took us through a really easy recipe which could be adapted for different dietary requirements – her minted broad bean tartlets could be chopped and changed to please everyone from gluten-free vegans to chorizo lovers…
The recipe is on her blog here and I’ll definitely be trying these over Christmas, especially as they’re lovely and fresh. (Am I the only one who gets a *bit* sick of festive food? Maybe it’s a vegetarian thing but when the only option is usually some form of melted camembert, it can be quite nice to have something that’s actually green!).
Then I moved on to all things table laying with Denby’s head designer Richard Eaton where he told us that Denby’s recent Art of Entertaining survey revealed that Christmas lunch was the meal where Brits make the most effort. Apparently 64% of us lay a formal table for our festive feasts.
I haven’t had the honour of hosting Christmas Day itself just yet, but I have hosted for 12 either side of Christmas and I do like the table to look nice.
These were Richard’s top five table tips…
- NO RULES – Gone is the day that a table should be set with a traditional layout – be flexible. Have fun and play with different settings to ensure your personality shines through.
- BE ECLECTIC – Not every product has to match and it’s great to add focal pieces too, whether its brightly coloured or patterned accent plates or a statement bowl.
- ENHANCE THE SENSES – Flowers have always had a part to play in setting a table, but why not change things to include herbs or evergreens to introduce a festive aroma to the table?
- GO NATURAL – Natural materials work really well with ceramics, whether it is wood, metal, glass or slate.
- FINISHING TOUCHES – Candles create a wonderfully warm atmosphere and are an essential part of any stylish table setting.
Now as somebody who has spent the last three years collecting Denby’s Halo pattern, I was surprised by the second tip 😉 But I do agree that a mix of things often looks best. Over various birthdays, Christmases and anniversaries we’ve managed to collect a fair bit of Halo, but I have some “statement” type pieces from Anthropologie, Emma Bridgewater and Habitat to “break it up” a bit. I generally stick with blacks and shades of blue, but it is nice to have the odd bright pop of colour too.
As for candles? I am ALL ABOUT THE CANDLES. I like to play with textures too as per tip no.4, with marble coasters, mock croc placemats (much less tacky than they sound, honest!) and a glass runner along the centre of the wooden table. I love using evergreens instead of flowers over Christmas too, last year I made a wreath which I had as our centrepiece and it smelled *incredible* (and lasted a good eight weeks – genuinely!)…
For my last workshop, I headed for the “Cheat’s Pudding” session with Aimee Twigger. This class was a bit of a revelation to be honest, as I had never really appreciated how easy it was to make an Eton Mess which looks so darn pretty…
Denby have kindly allowed me to share the recipe below, but I’ll be honest it’s more of a method than a recipe – it’s SO simple!
Packet of meringues
250ml double cream
5 tbsp icing sugar
3 tbsp sugar
- Slice the strawberries and place in a bowl with the sugar to macerate
- Whip the cream and icing sugar until stiff peaks form
- Crush the meringues and add a spoon full of cream in bowl
- Spread out mixture onto a large platter and add a handful of crushed meringue and some strawberries
- Add more cream, more meringues, more strawberries and scatter edible flowers to finish
It’s really as simple as that: whip some cream, cut some strawberries, crush some meringue and scatter with edible flowers. (Not all flowers are edible btw! Look online or speak to a florist, if you’re not growing your own make sure you buy organic).
You can chop and change this basic recipe for different seasons, going for more berries in winter perhaps or opting for different flowers/edible glitter for Christmas (HOW FANCY). I like the idea of serving it exactly like this at Christmas though, again because it’s just that bit more refreshing when you’re otherwise in a sea of yule logs and mince pies.
It was a really nice way to spend a Monday evening and it left me with all sorts of ideas for Christmas. As well as more than a few pieces of serveware to add to my Christmas list!
Do tweet me if you’d like any blog posts with my own hosting tips/menu ideas for Christmas. Granted, a lot of my tips revolve around making sure everyone has plenty to drink (ahem) but I do have a few please-a-crowd type recipes that I bust out time and time again because they’re so easy. You don’t want to be the host who misses half the fun because they’re tethered to the hob all evening, after all.
Thanks for having me Denby and John Lewis!