You know the story: always a bridesmaid, never the bride. Own it. It’s spring 2017 and you’re the consummate host. When your friends get engaged on a trip to foggy London Town, you step up to the plate and email 20 (gasp) friends, inviting everyone over for an engagement party for the happy couple.
Yes, you’re slightly regretting the decision as you Swiffer the floors, hide your dirty laundry, and run out for more trash bags. But you’re doing the right thing.
A few tips for a magical evening.
First things first: your menu. Lean into where the magic happened (e.g. the city where they made it official). You’ll get major style points for being thoughtful and you’ve squarely zeroed in on a palate and cultural zeitgeist that you can leverage. (In this case, we’re going British). Choose some obvious greatest hits, under the radar dishes, and things you’d love to make and serve.
Leveraging the location goes for your art design as well. A dinner party is equal parts visuals and vibes, so set the space up for maximal face-to-face engagement and capture some of the energy and charisma of the city you’re paying homage to.
What do I mean?
Make custom labels for your specialty cocktails, hang your cheap twinkle lights, rip out a few pages from old magazines and neglected coffee table books to make a backdrop for your feast. Be thrifty, be imaginative. And be your own prop stylist. Re-use things in your space that can take on new meaning (milk glass candlesticks, punch bowls, dried flowers, chalk figures, inherited china cups), and add a little theatricality to your spread.
Second pro tip: stay seasonal, stay local. City living ain’t easy and cars aren’t always part of the equation. Keep your menu and decor to items within reach. Ideally, within walking distance. Sure, you’re going to have to schlep a few tote bags’ worth of supplies and there is a chance your carton of eggs will crash to the sidewalk anyway, but let’s keep this as pain-free as possible, shall we?
Thirdly: throw in a few curveballs. An engagement party is a time-honored tradition and is, yes, a celebration of love and fidelity, but it’s also an opportunity to whip up some items that you’ve been waiting for a chance to test and try. Don’t be afraid to make one or two new plates you’ve never done before; everyone is going to be buzzed on cheap champagne, so you’re in the safe zone for test kitchen status.
And lastly: make a banging playlist and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’re about to get a million “What can I bring!?” texts. So ask friends to bring Aperol, Pimm’s, wine, cheese, sourdough, whatever is on your hit list. They like to be included, and you could use the contributions (gotta keep your cash flow healthy!).
Here’s a look at the menu I would create for an English rose garden vibe.
Perfect Roast Potatoes
A classic English dish and easy to make in big batches. The sprigs of rosemary look beautiful when sprinkled over lightly browned spuds, and these stay tasty throughout the evening, as they soak up blessed olive oil in a big china bowl. Get our Perfect Roast Potatoes recipe.
Roasted Bell Peppers
These bad boys look real good when presented on platters and they’re yum. I would grab red, orange, and green to add a little technicolor beauty to your table. Get our Basic Roasted Bell Peppers recipe.
Muffin Pan Popovers
Popoversssss. Equal parts theatrical and delicious, these should be served right out of the oven with cream and jam. They’re airy goodness and are very spring-y. Get our Muffin Pan Popovers recipe.
Smoked Salmon with Caviar on Cucumber
This is a pretty retro dish (plucked from the kitchen of Betty Draper) in just the right kinda way. Round out your spread with a 1950s amuse bouche. Get our Smoked Salmon with Caviar on Cucumber recipe.
Honey-Mustard Glazed Ham
No British feast is complete without one and it’s a specialty item your pals will get a kick out of. File under the category of “grandma chic.” If you can accompany it with homemade bread, cheese, and cornichons, you’re really on the money. Get our Honey-Mustard Glazed Ham recipe.
Orange-Vanilla Ricotta Cheesecake
I’m always looking for an excuse to eat cheesecake, and this one has a beautiful burnt orange color and dreamy texture that you’re going to be psyched about (hello, seconds at 2 AM with a wee glass of Prosecco). Get our Orange-Vanilla Ricotta Cheesecake recipe.
Rustic Blueberry Tart
It’s creamy, has a slight lemony kick, and looks beautiful on a little plate. Best served with coffee or a glass of champagne to close out the night. Get our Rustic Blueberry Tart recipe.
And remember — don’t stress. With a good soundtrack, the right pair of shoes, and a delicious spread, you’re sailing into a beautiful night. And hey, you did a really nice thing.
— Head image by: Remy Patrizio.