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The Big Freeze has left us all longing for warmer weather. What a great excuse to start planning the summer party!
If there was ever a year when we all deserved some sunshine drinks,
this is definitely it. Not only was this winter the coldest – and snowiest – for 31 years, most of us have also been working much harder, due to the poor financial climate. But now, as green shoots
have started to show both in the flowerbeds and economy, it’s time to leave all that behind and start looking forward to brighter days. In short: let’s celebrate!
Don’t worry if the budget won’t stretch to extravagances: the important thing is that you do something. Anything. It could really be as simple as leaving a few hours early for an afternoon trip to the pub but, with loads of great offers for more elaborate parties flying around, it’d be a shame not to take advantage, so have a look at the ‘News, Offers & Bright Ideas’ scattered over these pages.
You could argue that summer parties are among the easiest events to organise. When all the elements – warm weather, cold drinks, happy people – come together, you can hardly go wrong. But this is England and you can’t always count on the elements, so make sure you have somewhere to take cover if it rains. Ever optimistic, we’re hoping for a hot one (freezing winter equals scorching summer, surely?) and so would also like to flag up the importance of providing plenty of shade and ice.
Those looking for a good turnout will also want to choose their dates carefully. The summer social calendar is always busy so it’s best to check there aren’t any clashes (our hospitality calendar, p.182-190 will help you do just that). When you’re booking events during a time many people will be planning their holidays, it’s also important to get the invitations out as early as possible.
You could, of course, consider organising your summer party around a bigger event. This year, there will be world cup parties all around town – see the feature on p.177 for details – and it’s always fun to join the well-dressed crowds at Royal Ascot and the Henley Regatta. The various tennis tournaments also offer plenty of scope for entertainment, either at the events themselves or during screenings at a private venue.
When it comes to finding venues for a summer party, you’ll find plenty of inspiration on our website. Go to squaremeal.co.uk, click on the turquoise Venues & Events tab at the top and cast your eye over the ‘Square Meal Selections’ in the left-hand column. Second from the top is our collection of alfresco venue menus, which not only includes a roundup of all outdoor venues in town, but also suggestions for cool marquees, large lawns, roof gardens and places that bring an outdoor feel inside. As ever, you can also request bespoke suggestions by filling out the online form at squaremeal.co.uk/venues helpline.
Riverside venues are hotter than ever. ‘When doing showrounds of The Deck, I hear many people talk of the “Thames Riviera”,’ says the South Bank venue’s sales and marketing manager Kat Parker. We kind of like the sound of that. Whether you’d like to be on the water (in which case you’d click on ‘Thames Riverboats’) or beside it (‘Thames Riverside’), there are plenty of suggestions under ‘Top Venue Menus’ in the Square Meal Selections.
Up to the Plate
Summer entertaining is not about starched linen and gastronomic fireworks – instead, focus on the great outdoors and simple catering with good ingredients. ‘People are still looking for fundays rather than high-end dos,’ says Simon Mitchell, MD of Impulse Events. ‘We are offering barbecues and bouncy castles as a more informal, lower-budget option.’
No matter how many times summer catering is reinvented, it always comes back to the classic barbecue. Not only is barbecued food a sure-fire crowd pleaser, it can be scaled up or downgraded to suit any budget. If the purse strings are tight, stick to cheaper cuts of good quality meat – pork belly, chicken legs, rump steak, which barbecue better than leaner, more expensive cuts anyway – or mackerel as a fish option. Provide plenty of substantial sides based on wholesome grains, rice and simple chunky salads. Marinades, rubs and salsa are cost-effective ways to add flavour.
At the other end of the scale, a barbecue can be an impressive centrepiece if you’re pulling out the stops. Look out for alternatives to the regular grill – the sizzler bar at 66 Portland Place, for example, where food is served up on red-hot slabs, or try Brazilian-style rotisserie with a churrascaria,
A seafood barbecue with king prawns, lobster, scallops, tuna and sea bass is a showstopper if you’ve got the budget. Food trends this year are concentrating on Mexico for tacos and tostados; Italy for simple ingredients- led antipasti platters and Mediterranean offerings, especially fish and vegetables cooked in the wood oven; and America for decadent diner fare – ribs, hot dogs and cobb salad – and soul food. If, like many around town this year, you’re incorporating a World Cup match screening into your event, why not theme the food according to the teams?
Alternatively, keep your celebrations close to home with a classic picnic in the park – for tighter budgets – or an English tea party in one of London’s lovely gardens (see p.115 for locations). ‘We have seen an increase in clients asking for vintage afternoon tea events with an eccentric English theme,’ says Kit Hegarty of the corporate caterers Lettice. Think croquet and cucumber sandwiches, tea cocktails, quiche, cake and scones. Or put on a rustic British spread with roasted ham, a wheel of stilton, pork pies, potted shrimps and smoked salmon and trout.
Whatever you’re serving, be aware that healthy eating is here to stay – particularly in the summer months – so make a point of offering a selection of salads and fruit-based desserts. Be adventurous with carbohydrates, replacing staple sides such as cous cous and pasta with this year’s crop of super-grains: faro, bulgur wheat, quinoa and wild rice, for example, lifted with plenty of fresh herbs, toasted seeds, citrus and greens. ‘Swapping pasta and rice for more complex carbohydrates will help fill guests up for longer and release energy more slowly,’ explains Dr Laura Wyness, senior nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation. ‘Not only does this help with weight management – something everyone is more aware of now – it will also prevent the party-crashing post-meal slump.’
And lastly, don’t forget to think carefully about the style of service, which is just as crucial as what’s being served.
The fashion for food stations is on the wane – undignified scrums and queues don’t add to the party atmosphere. ‘A team of staff with trays of bowl food takes more man power but it is also a far more effective way of distributing food than using stations,’ explains James Hurworth, MD of Mustard Catering.
Anyone for punch?
After the move to thriftier thirst-quenchers in 2009, Champagne is back, just without the exaggerated cork popping of the boom years. ‘Last year’s move away from Champagne didn’t go down too well,’ says Hurworth. ‘Research quality Champagnes with a lower price tag and serve them to keep guests happy.’
If you’re still keeping a lid on drinks costs, greet guests with a glass of Champagne – bottles on display, naturally – and move on to chilled white wine or cocktails as the evening progresses. ‘As demand for locally sourced food and drink increases, English wines are right on trend and the quality is better than ever,’ says Julie Sheppard, associate editor of Imbibe.
Serving potent cocktails on a hot sunny day is asking for trouble, but that doesn’t mean counting spirits out entirely. ‘Make cocktails longer, and cut down the alcohol,’ suggests Michael Namock from Nomad Food & Design. Guests will get in the party mood without peaking too soon, and you’ll see off sore heads the next morning.
Bring cocktails up to date with old-fashioned English tea party styling. ‘Expect to see cocktails follow in the wake of the British cooking revival – lots of recipes revived from a neglected tradition of English mixed drinks that goes back 300 years,’ says Alice Lascelles, spirits and bars editor of Imbibe. ‘Drinks like punches, possets, mulled drinks and vintage cocktails from the 1930s and 1940s, made with British ingredients and lots more homemade syrups and bitters.’
Non-alcoholic options are vital in the summer, so think of ways to make them just as appealing as their punchier counterparts. Kick the warm beaker of concentrated OJ to the kerb and replace it with fresh fruit blends: iced watermelon and lime; kiwi and pineapple; mango, raspberry and ginger. Think about the glassware too – a passionfruit spritzer or cranberry fizz served in a champagne glass is a far more discreet and glamorous choice for the non-drinkers.
NEWS, OFFERS & BRIGHT IDEAS
ENJOY CANDLELIT canapés at The Tabernacle’s (tel: 020 7243 9990, squaremeal.co.uk/tabernacle) tented garden, which is back with new barbecue areas and an outside bar. Capacity stretches from 50 to 500, at £15 a head.
MONKEY AROUND with the new pick and mix package at London Zoo (tel: 020 7449 6562, squaremeal.co.uk/zoo). Choose from two venues, or one of the animal houses. Packages start from £70pp.
BOWL YOUR guests over with hospitality at Lord’s cricket ground (tel:020 7616 8750, squaremeal.co.uk/lords). Combine one of the alfresco spaces with a barbecue buffet, including unlimited drinks, from £55pp.
PLAY SAILORS aboard the refurbished HMS Belfast (tel: 020 7403 6246, squaremeal.co.uk/hmsbelfast). The cost of hiring the stunning Quarterdeck with food, drinks, jazz and a suitably naval round of quoits, is £63 per person.
LET THE VENUE do the talking when you book into the redesigned terrace at RIBA (tel: 020 7307 3888, squaremeal.co.uk/riba). The terrace can hold 100 guests and hire, including the first-floor landing, costs £2,500.
PARTY FOR CHARIDEE at St Paul’s Garden (tel: 0845 230 3899, squaremeal.co.uk/stpaul). The tranquil spot in Covent Garden can accommodate up to 300 guests from just £7,50 per person and 50% of the profits go to the church.
BRING THE OUTDOORS IN at newly launched No 11 Cavendish Square (tel: 020 7307 2474, squaremeal.co.uk/no11cav), where a bright conservatory-style space leads into a secret courtyard. Summer Soirée packages start at £70pp for 100+ guests.
IT’S ALL WHITE on the Silver Sturgeon (tel: 020 7759 1900, squaremeal.co.uk/sturgeon), where summer parties follow a white theme, from white roses, white asparagus tips and white truffle risotto to the white grand piano played all night by a pianist (in a white cocktail dress, naturally). Packages start from £99 per person.
PEP UP your team with a super-healthy raw food banquet at the Old Laundry (tel:020 7535 7330, squaremeal.co.uk/oldlaundry). The new vegan living food packages cost from £6 + VAT pp and have been designed to invigorate. Room hire is extra.
TUCK IN at The Deck (tel: 020 7452 3796, squaremeal.co.uk/deck), where you can chill out with a picnic package, or indulge your inner child at a tuck shop with old-fashioned sweets. Evening room hire costs from £3,400.
A SUPER COOL IDEA from Nomad Food & Design (tel: 020 7261 1555). The caterer is pioneering the ‘nitro-station’, a bubbling cauldron of freezing cold liquid nitrogen into which guests can dip cream-covered strawberries and lemon meringue pies.
BLESSED WITH alfresco space? You can get your party picnic delivered by Lettice (tel: 020 7820 1161, squaremeal.co.uk/lettice). Orders of £500 or more are free and can often be sorted with just 24 hours’ notice.
DREAM ON with A Midsummer Night’s Dream party package in the Balcony Room at Swan at the Globe (tel: 020 7928 9444, squaremeal.co.uk/swanglobe). Shakespearian actors entertain alongside A Midsummer Night’s Feast, designed by executive chef Mark Sargent, for £150pp.
GET PARTY POLITICAL at RICS (tel: 020 7334 3781, squaremeal.co.uk/rics), which is offering the President’s Suite and terrace for up to 40 people, overlooking Parliament Square. Michel Roux Jr’s restaurant is in charge of the catering. Prices start from £1,235 for a half day.
PLAY PEGGY with your own pub for the day. Impulse Events (tel: 0870 383 4595, squaremeal.co.uk/impulse) is hiring out The Adelaide pub, complete with beer garden and upstairs nightclub, starting at £20pp.
TAKE TO THE RIVER at the refurbished runnymede-on-thames hotel (tel: 01784 220 960, squaremeal.co.uk/runnymede), with a Champagne river cruise and BBQ - plus spa and an overnight stay for £320pp.
PLAY THE COUNTRY GENT with a gentle game of croquet at Corney & Barrow Exchange Square (tel: 020 7265 2500, squaremeal.co.uk/corney). Lawn hire, kit and a croquet steward starts at £500, with food from £28 a head.
SHOOT TO THRILL on a day out with the West London Shooting School (tel: 020 8845 1377, squaremeal.co.uk/westls). Just the ticket for working off that simmering office aggression. Evening shoots finish with a barbecue, from £145 per person.
THAMES VIEWS are beautifully unobstructed from Bateaux London’s Naticia (tel: 020 7695 1800, squaremeal.co.uk/bateaux), with her retractable glass roof. Party cruises with dinner and music start from £57.50 a person.
FLAMINGO FIENDS will love the Babylon summer BBQ package at The Roof Gardens (tel: 020 7368 3993, squaremeal.co.uk/babylon). Char-grilled meat, seafood platters and cocktails in a leafy rooftop oasis tick all the party boxes, with feathered friends an added bonus. Prices tbc.
PIT STOP? Transform a Davy’s winebar (tel: 020 7407 9670, squaremeal.co.uk/davys) into a mini Silverstone for the evening with a Scalextric racing track, from £500.
GET SET TO JET with summer packages from HMS President 1918 (tel: 020 7583 1918, squaremeal.co.uk/hmspres), which include JET-boat rides on the Thames, and oyster men serving seafood and shot-cocktails.
LONDON PARTIES will feel bucolic in gorgeous four-acre private walled garden at Fulham Palace (tel: 020 7736 3233; squaremeal.co.uk/fulham-p). Various packages are available.
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, April 2010