How to Throw the Ultimate Autumn Dinner Party

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If anyone knows how to create a chic dining experience it's feted chef, Keith Goddard. Here, he dishes up his expert advice

“Curiosity and fluke” is how Michelin-starred chef Keith Goddard describes his decision to step away from intense 18-hours days heading up 101 Pimlico Road to establish a fine-dining catering company. In the four years since that decision to try something new, Goddard’s reputation for exquisitely executed modern British food has carried him from cooking in the homes of exclusive private clients to creating stunning menus for dinners thrown by the likes of Alexander McQueen, Roksanda Ilincic and Carolina Bucci.

"I was looking for that balance between the creativity of inventing a menu and the monotonous routine of refining a dish over and over,” Goddard recalls, sitting back in his recently opened private dining space, Arch 65, in Battersea. The modern yet luxurious room is tucked beneath a railway bridge, giving it a sense of both grandeur and edge. With its open kitchen, and floor-to-ceiling windows, it seems the perfect setting to discuss a fail-safe strategy for hosting an ever-so chic dinner party…

1. When it comes to table setting, detail is key
“Laying a table beautifully can take more than an hour, so I would always do it either the day before or in the morning” recommends Goddard. Polishing cutlery, setting out knobs of butter and crisp napkins are de rigeur. “If you begin at 5pm, then you’re encroaching on cocktail hour,” he laughs. Simply make sure all the candles are lit in time for guests’ arrival; Goddard believes lighting should be dim and preferably from candles alone.

2. Add two unexpected elements
Even if you stick to the simplest of menus, the addition of one or two surprising ingredients along the way is bound to impress. Goddard’s tip is to add a jelly or granita as a palette cleanser between the starter and main course. “I adore champagne and strawberry with black pepper” he adds. In truly refreshing fashion, he recommends a little Google research to find your preferred recipe. “There are so many out there now!”

Equally the addition of a final flourish such as an edible flower atop a cocktail “isn’t complicated but is bound to wow”.

3. Serve something raw
Another shortcut to astounding guests in a simple but stunning manner is to create a starter of raw or cured meats. Goddard’s favourites include scallop tartare, lamb fillet tartare or perhaps even rosé veal tartare (ensure it is ethically sourced). If you opt for scallops, Goddard recommends blending the roe with a little sesame and soy to use as a kind of salt garnish.

4. Embrace autumn and spring
Goddard’s favourite culinary times of year are autumn and spring, so for optimum ingredients, plan your soirée around these times. Game, mushrooms and root vegetables are delicious as the colder months approach. Meanwhile, “spring is a lovely time to cook” he says of the season’s fresh herbs, baby vegetables and “proper” asparagus.

5. Elevate tradition 
“I can’t stand fads,” sighs Goddard, “I can understand that in London they can sometimes be the only way to stand out but I believe in classic food.” He’s quick to point out that his admiration for tradition doesn’t mean boring. “I always want to try interesting things.” To that end, his current breakfast canapés include such delights as lobster pancakes and indulgently irresistible bacon maple doughnuts. 

For dinner parties, Goddard’s philosophy is to transcend classic dishes. “We’re hosting a gathering in Arch 65 tomorrow where the menu will be cottage pie and tarte tatin,” he explains, but they’ll be the very best, idiosyncratic versions. Cheese on toast and croque monsieur also feature regularly on Goddard’s menus. The lesson for those of us still on a hosting learning curve? Do an old favourite brilliantly. For example, any boeuf bourguignon tastes better the day after cooking.