The nights have drawn in and the kitchen windows are steaming up as pans jostle for space on the hob… yes, it’s hosting season once more.
With sunny afternoons sponsored by rosé swapped for more nourishing pursuits, how are the capital’s most consummate hosts entertaining their guests?
Home-cooking is still the order of the day, but so long as your playlist is fun and your table is ’scaped to within an inch of its life, guests will turn a blind eye to dialling in help from Just Eat.
We asked four tastemakers on their rituals and hacks to make your dinner party run that bit smoother this winter.
Over to Skye McAlpine’s place for convivial home cooking
McAlpine is a cook, Sunday Times food columnist and author of several cookbooks. Her pop-up shop selling her homewares range, Tavola, is open daily at 10 William Street, Belgravia, SW1X, until December 16
I love hosting friends at my home; from third helpings of pudding to gossiping on the sofa, it feels cosier than going out.
Obviously I love cooking, and once you’re making food for four, it may as well be eight or 10 guests.
I can be quite last-minute with plans, but sometimes there’ll be a date that’s been arranged two months in advance. I usually ask everyone for 7.30pm and sit down for 8.30pm.
I keep drinks simple: prosecco, white and red wine, and something non-alcoholic. And I never do starters. I find it’s awkward to clear plates after everyone has just sat down to eat, so I lay out nibbles like salami or a chunk of cheese — it makes me feel less stressed about getting dinner on the table super quickly.
Often I serve roasted meat; food you can shove in the oven and not worry about too much is the dream when you’re hosting. And then I’ll do a green salad and bowls of veggies served at room temperature, like roasted squash with crumbled feta and toasted almonds.
I’ll always do a sharing pudding, like a chocolate mousse in a large dish so that everyone can dig in.
Homemade ice-cream is also pretty chic, there are a few easy, no-churn recipes in my book. I make it in bulk.
Setting the table is my thing as it sets the tone for a special evening. I have plates and glasses that I’ve collected over the years, and all my cutlery is vintage and mismatched. I’m also a big fan of candles — everyone looks better by candlelight.
Even if you don’t have time to cook and are serving up takeaway pizzas, lay the table nicely and put out bowls of figs and walnuts for extra toppings.
Just remember that no one is coming to supper to see how brilliant you are at cooking — as long as you’re not giving guests salmonella!
My hosting hack: if you don’t have time to make your own ice-cream, buy a good-quality one and brew some espresso to make affogato served in coffee cups — it’s so easy.
Revelling in style over sustenance with Max Hurd
Dandy-about-town Hurd is a creative consultant, working with brands such as Abask, Asprey and Patron tequila on visuals and styling
Most of my friends know that when they get invited to dinner at mine, they’re not really coming for the food. It’s about the drinks and the fun. My house itself is quite joyous and silly, so people like coming round to see it.
I’ve got a rolling guest list of six or so friends that I’m swapping in and out, and that includes a bestie to assist with the hosting.
Dinner parties become more like speed-dating if no one knows each other, so I operate a ‘buddy system’, meaning that there will always be at least someone a guest has met before.
I raid M&S for its deli deal on olives and sundried tomatoes, and decant hummus into beautiful china pots arranged on an enormous wooden chopping board. It looks incredibly elegant. Unless you have staff, you don’t want to be faffing around with topping up canapes.
I set up a bar with rinds, salts, a big bucket of ice and bottles of spirits, so people can make a cocktail.
Dressing the table is my forte. You want to make people walk in and smile.
I often use perishable goods, like lettuces or tomatoes, and decor from around the house, like shells from the bathroom if I’m doing fish.
I never serve dinner before 9pm and always go in with the best of intentions, but I get over-excited when guests arrive. My last gathering was a disaster — the pasta I made was so disgusting I had to confiscate everyone’s plates.
Luckily my boyfriend, who is Italian, had a homemade ragu from his aunt, so we quickly defrosted that.
I wouldn’t dream of clearing up during the evening, but when people won’t leave, the opening and closing of the dishwasher is the signal that it’s time to get the f*** out of my house.
My hosting hack: If you’re entertaining in a small space, clear a surface to dump all the used plates and pots. But don’t let any of your guests help you!
Feasting through heritage with Ravinder Bhogal
The restaurateur is the founder of Jikoni in Marylebone, and a food columnist for the Guardian and author. Her latest book, Comfort and Joy: Irresistible Pleasures from a Vegetarian Kitchen, is out now
For me, there’s no difference between welcoming people to my restaurant and hosting at home. Jikoni is an extension of my kitchen, using recipes passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter, like feminine gospels.
I get a lot of requests for my thalis, which I’m excited to serve on these platters which just arrived from the company P-tal in India.
I’m all about preserving traditions and these are the product of millennia-old craft which is going to die out if we don’t support it.
I might make a pumpkin and fresh coconut thoran along with a soupy kadhi, pilau rice and salad, and always some sort of fresh bread, whether it’s a chapatti or purri. A thali is meant to make you feel nourished and balanced, and there’s a real sense of abundance to it.
The best Indian cooking is always in people’s homes, and I love the storytelling behind dishes that people might never have tasted before.
There’s even a tale behind the napkins I use, which are hand block-printed by a women’s co-operative in Jaipur.
I like hosting on a Saturday night because no-one’s ever in a hurry to get home. Coming out of the speakers will be music by Nitin Sawhney, whose way of bringing musicians from all over the world together really speaks to my soul.
My husband calls me scarily organised, but when you’re in a professional kitchen it’s all about the prep, so I don’t need to be faffing when the guests arrive. I want to enjoy their company.
Fifteen years ago I discovered Karen Hsu of Pom Pom Factory, who handmakes the most incredible paper flowers. I’ll send her a brief or a theme, and she’ll create exactly what I need. And as they’re everlasting, you can gift them to guests as a memory of the evening.
My hosting hack: Don’t worry about serving shop-bought food. I sometimes raid Fromagerie for cheeses and beautiful charcuteries. If you’re generous and show that you’ve put some thought into it, no one will mind.
Chez Holland for karaoke and take-out
Fashion designer turned ceramicist Henry Holland creates hand-built pottery using the Japanese nerikomi technique from his studio in east London. His pieces are stocked at Liberty, Matchesfashion.com and henryhollandstudio.com
My husband David and I like having friends over for dinner, but we’re not great in the kitchen.
We share takeaways more than cooking… last time we got a Mexican, which is good because there’s loads of picky bits. I’m not fussy about where it’s from — whatever’s on Deliveroo. And a Margarita is our drink: we get some ice in the blender and make them with Casamigos tequila.
We have lots of groups of friends who don’t cross over a lot, so we don’t tend to mix them up. I find you have to referee new people and it all gets a bit too network-y. Some people curate some really chic playlists, but we listen to the cheesiest, naffest pop music.
I started out as fashion editor of Smash Hits magazine, and I’m still a pop lover at heart.
I’ll play bands everyone else has forgotten, like Triple 8 and The 411, and hosting tends to become more of an impromptu karaoke session after dinner. We’ll dance around the living room singing into the remote control.
Our house is being renovated, so we host the odd dinner party at the studio. I like dressing the table with a runner and now I’m making wine glasses I can deck out in my own designs.
In the centre I place a larger piece, like a chalice or vase, with fresh flowers in. I like busy, decorative tables — so long as you can see the person opposite.
It can often get a bit tense before people arrive. I don’t know if this is appropriate, but my advice would be to have a couple of shots!
My hosting hack: A place mat is an easy way to elevate a table and frames each setting so well. I love getting them from Liberty, but H&M Home is good, too.