Around the table....with Sarah Moore: Vintage loving writer and maker and owner of online store Sarah Moore Home
I can never remember a time when food and cooking were not in my life. My Grandparents had a restaurant in Norfolk, my Grandmother, cooking bistro style food back in the 60’s and 70’s. Ahead of her time, she used local ingredients and simple set menus to deliver delicious food from her farmhouse kitchen. I trained as a chef, setting up my own private catering company in Covent Garden before going on to run the kitchens of a large private party caterer in London.
(When I was cooking professionally...)
We served dinner for tens, hundreds and sometimes thousands of people across London’s most beautiful private houses and hidden event spaces. I cooked more hot dinner in my twenties than anyone should cook in a lifetime.
After nearly ten years on the stoves, I left the kitchen to purely write menus and design service equipment, inventing delicious, eye-appealing foods using simply great ingredients.
(one of the dishes I made up: pink potato and prawn salad with fennel and mint)
As I can cook soufflés for 500 I never felt any pressure to impress when cooking for friends. My husband, Pete and I first lived together in a very dilapidated house in Brixton. Our first suppers there were grilled over charcoal in the garden as there was not a kitchen that was safe enough to eat in.
What makes a great dinner party at your home?
I think a warm welcome and good first drink set the tone for a dinner and having everything well prepared allows you to relax as a host and enjoy the evening too. So we normally start with something other than wine or champagne to drink.
Easiest options are to puree something that has seasonal flavours and add it to champagne or cava.
(summer fruits ready to puree for a cocktail)
A little gooseberry, elderflower and sugar mixture, heated until the gooseberries soften and pushed through a sieve would be a good early summer example, or a puree of some pears cooked with mulling spices and a little maple syrup would be good in winter. The combination of flavour, sugar and alcohol always perks people up.
(I use pretty teacups for serving puddings..and even cocktails)
Having the table beautifully set, all the ingredients and plates and food prep in place means your guests can relax too! And better to serve a great Bolognese than a tricky Thai something.
Which five words would sum up your typical dinner party?
Tasty, relaxed, simple, eclectic, messy, …the last word is about me in the kitchen. Ten years of having a kitchen porter to clear up behind me have left a nasty habit of not being economical with the use of pans, spoons, spatulas, cloths, baking trays, whisks, …..etc
What style do you like to go for when hosting?
Informal! We are a Take us as you find us household. We are always living in houses that are not quite finished, hosting on a budget, juggling two working parents with three busy children, so the times of spending a whole day preparing and making before people arrive have now past.
Many times we have lit rooms by candlelight so you can’t see the walls need painting, moved whole rooms around to get bigger tables or more space as numbers have increased. We have just moved but spent nearly ten years living in the heart of a very sociable village. We had a set of a dozen great friends and we had fantastic fun hosting and being hosted close to home…things would tend to start in quite an orderly manner…
What would be the first thing you’d do when preparing for a dinner party?
Go through everything in my head looking at the day and date to see what else is going on around that time. No time to prepare but needing something special might mean a call to the fishmonger to order some lobster. Half a lobster and some great homemade chips, a good bowl of mayonnaise and green salad take moments to prepare and feel like a treat: and is surprisingly cost-effective compared to the tricky thai that has 15 exotic ingredients that you only use a pinch of.
Which one song could you imagine being played during your dinner party evening?
Pete does the music. I am surprising immune to picking up exactly what is on in the background. Human by the Killers sticks in my head as being one song that friends and I ended up dancing on the table too, but I don’t remember the opening set!
Is there a best dinner party menu you like to use?
(a little something to nibble on before dinner)
I love serving mixed starters. Meze style tasty little selection of dishes that can be passed and shared.
Smoky aubergine Babaganouche, delicious roasted peppers with feta, homemade hummus with lots of frazzled onions and toasted pine nuts, grilled courgettes with parmesan and lemon and mint.
Tiger prawns fried with sage. Then a simple main course. Chargrilled chickens cooked with lemon and potatoes in the oven, and a leafy pomegranate spiked sale on the side. One fabulous huge piece of cheese with some herby biscuits and a tiny pot of something spiked with alcohol for pudding. Raisin ice cream with Pedro Xeminex (super sweet fortified wine) poured over it.
Candles or no candles? Very low lighting, lots of candles, please.
Is there a magic number around how many guests to invite?
Catching up with old friends where you really want to catch up: just the 4 of us. But for just good fun more the merrier! anything up to 20 is a nice noisy number.
What would be your top tips? Simple, straightforward cooking is fine. Just make sure that there is one great sauce or dressing or little topping that adds some depth of flavour. Tray up all the plates, bowls, spoons etc that you need for each course so when you serve the cheese everything is ready to go with it, the coffee stuff is to hand etc.. Don’t make the portions too huge. You don’t want people feeling full and tired!
I love to lay a pretty table. Nothing matches but that is fine! little flowers look pretty too