With help from some Dubai-based experts, Holly Sands compiles 15 fool-proof tips on how to be the ideal host
We’ve eaten at the iftars and snacked at the suhoors, but Ramadan’s not over yet. With the silence of the city’s clubs lasting until at least September 9 and summer temperatures of 49°C+ preventing any barbie action, it’s peak dinner party season in Dubai once again. Expats and locals are throwing open their doors, inviting family and friends in to break the fast, play games and socialise. And countless hours spent hooting with laughter at the hapless culinary endeavours of contestants on award-winning reality series Come Dine With Me – an amateur cooking contest that is hard to miss as it airs on OSN’s BBC Lifestyle every night of the week – mean we’ve reached all-out dinner party fever. We called upon some of Dubai’s best caterers, chefs and seasoned hosts to come up with 15 fool-proof tips to help you blow your guests away.
1 Start a week early: Do a dummy run and cook the entire meal the week before, avoiding dishes that keep you away from your guests. Jonquil Parisian, executive chef at the Lime Tree Café & Kitchen (04 325 6325, www.limetreecafe.com), which provides catering services, advises, ‘The best dishes to prepare in advance are freezer friendly canapés, such as mini wellingtons, sausage rolls, filo parcels, stuffed wontons and risotto balls, which can all be made a week before, then baked on the day’.
2 Sport comes first: Don’t hold your party on the day of a major sporting event. Bear in mind there are many sports seasons in full swing at this time of year, and the Premier League continues until at least April! If you’re not likely to know off-hand if a major game is on, checking beforehand for an overlap will help avoid arguments and the chance of half your guests leaving in the middle of dinner.
3 De-fluff the sofa: Book a cleaner for the morning after. Though this will be the last element of your dinner party, it’s a good idea to get in touch with a decent cleaning company a few days before. We all know Dubai is a dusty city, but your home should also be spotless before everyone arrives, so make sure your floors are sparkling and vacuum the sofa for all traces of cat hair. We recommend Focus (04 331 6006, www.focusmaids.com) or Home Help (04 355 5100, www.homehelp.ae), both of which provide cleaning services for Dhs35 per hour, or Jumeirah Maid Cleaning Services (04 344 6690, www.jumeiramaid.com) which charges Dhs30 per hour when hired for a minimum of four hours.
4 Count your chairs: If you’re worried about offending those you’ve left out, just tell them you don’t have enough chairs! Your next step is to consider who your guests are – do they get on? Are they able and willing to socialise outside the comfort of their clique? Be sure to avoid combinations that will end up in a brawl over the baba ganoush, and remember, it’s not a wedding; you don’t have to invite everyone you know.
5 Hold the steak: Make sure your guests can eat everything you plan to serve – some seemingly innocent treats, such as marshmallows, contain pork gelatin, so think twice before peppering your dessert with them. ‘With the cultural diversity of Dubai, it’s especially important to know if any of your guests are Muslim or Hindu, and therefore have religious dietary requirements,’ says Parisian. If you’re unsure, just ask. You don’t want to serve a curry stuffed with cashews to someone with a peanut allergy, or present a great bloody steak to a Hindu or vegetarian guest.
6 Shake up iftar: Try offering traditional Arabic dishes with a twist, like beetroot hummus, Mexican-spiced falafel or courgette koftas,’ says Dan Jimenez, outside catering manager at The One (04 345 6687, www.theone.com) which offers catering services for every occasion. Don’t cook anything too heavy if you’re doing a number of courses. ‘Salads are an easy option and are also a lighter way for Muslim’s to break their fast,’ he continues. Resist going overboard with the garlic – most people won’t thank you for a dish laden with lingering, potent flavours that will stay with them long after they’ve left the table. So undesirable is bad breath, a recent survey carried out in the US found 58 per cent of women and 57 per cent of men viewed it as a major romance killer.
7 Don’t cross continents: Choose a theme and stick to it. If you’re cooking a Thai main course, the starter and dessert should follow suit. Even with the best of intentions, it’s just no good serving up a French onion soup, followed by Thai green curry and rounded-off with a tiramisu – it confuses the palate. ‘If you’re looking for a less formal dinner party, serve lots of different foods tapas style, and encourage guests to mix and match,’ says Jimenez.
8 Remember the dates: Have some bite-sized snacks, such as dates, on hand for guests to break the fast with or nibble on. ‘Offer guests an assortment of Arabic and gourmet breads, and a range of tasty dips. It’s a great way for Muslims to break their fast at iftar in case dinner isn’t quite ready,’ suggests Jiminez. Moutabel, a spicy eggplant dip, is quick to make, and there are loads of recipes online. Parisian agrees, saying ‘Make sure you have a few platters of food out for when the guests arrive so they can nibble, mingle and get their taste buds ready for the main event’.
9 Don’t forget the Vimto: Sales of the sweet cordial rocket every Ramadan, so don’t be caught without it. Take responsibility for pouring people’s drinks, as nervous guests have a tendency to overdo it early in the evening. As the host, you should also avoid pulling a Keith Floyd – it’s not a good look. ‘Designing a themed signature welcome drink for guests upon arrival can turn a simple dinner party into a memorable event,’ says Parisian. Your guests will also appreciate the effort you’ve gone to.
10 Avoid toilet trouble: Make sure the bathroom is clean and well-stocked throughout the night. ‘One often bases their opinion of a place on the quality of the bathrooms or toilet – be it a restaurant or home,’ says Ajaz Sheikh, director of operations at up-market Japanese eatery, Zuma. ‘You really don’t want a stained toilet, dirty sink, towels that are not fresh or soap that is not from a bottle. How embarrassing!’ His advice? ‘You should have a quality scented candle and good quality towels.’
11 Let your table talk: Get prepared and set the table. According to Jiminez, ‘Partygoers in Dubai appreciate a bit of glitz and glam, so jazz up your dining table with sparkly napkin rings, funky decorations and oversized glassware.’ Put some thought into how you present the table; ditch the usual flower arrangement for something a bit more interesting – Hide & Seek Africa (04 323 6801, www.hideandseekafrica.com) sells loads of interesting decorations, why not go for an intricately carved Ostrich egg, complete with polished springbok horn tripod? ‘Don’t clutter the dining table with decorations, as this will take the spotlight away from your dishes,’ warns Alan Snyman, executive chef at Dubai’s Towers Rotana.
12 Music is a minefield: Music sets the tone, and safe bets are often not all they seem – a poll by BBC 6 Radio in the UK found Des’ree’s ‘Life’ guilty of having the worst lyrics of all time. ‘Pre-drinks can be popular music such as Amy Winehouse or John Mayer, then during dinner I would go for light jazz and soft piano, so people can talk around the table. Post dinner can be a little more upbeat, and then it all depends on the age group and the reason for the dinner if you plan to liven things up,’ Sheikh suggests.
13 Anyone for a fire eater?: Plan for after the meal and decide on the entertainment before your guests arrive. If you’ve hired entertainers or planned games, take charge before one of the more unimaginative members of your group suggests charades. ‘Popular acts are stilt walkers and fire eaters, plus anything that’s interactive with people,’ says Dan Bolton, entertainment booker at Bareface Entertainers (04 390 2040, www.bareface.com) which can provide anything from Arabic musicians to contortionists. Prices start from Dhs1,500, up to Dhs500 million.
14 Ice, ice baby!: Have plenty of ice and glasses. Ice is readily available in bags from most supermarkets. ‘You’ll need more than you think! Remember it’s for drinks and cooling all your bottles and canned drinks before the party,’ says Parisian. Make sure you have three glasses at the table for each guest, but have another two spare per person (that’s 30 glasses for six guests). ‘Washing glasses while you’re entertaining is no one’s idea of fun, and drinking from paper or plastic makes us all think of university days,’ he concludes.
15 Bring out the Gouda: It’s not a dinner party if there isn’t a cheese board, and it stops people feeling like the evening has come to an abrupt end after dessert. Lime Tree Cafe’s Jiminez suggests building the selection – which should comprise three to five different cheeses – around a theme, such as country of origin: ‘Aim for variety in taste, texture and appearance. An interesting selection might include a soft, mild cheese like a Camembert, a hard, mild, nutty cheese such as an Asiago, and a semi-firm, sharp Maytag Blue.’
‘Back home in Ireland, my friend was cooking dinner when she realised the bubbles emerging from the pot were a result of leftover Fairy Liquid which was now boiling away with the lovely pasta.’ Shane
‘I once hosted a dinner party where I ended up passing out in the bathroom after I finished dessert. The towel looked like it would make the best pillow. I was only asleep, but the door was locked and I think everyone was afraid I’d pulled an Elvis. Daisy
‘I arrived home from vacation and had a dinner party planned that same night. With the rush of buying ingredients, preparing food and cooking, I forgot to set my clock back to Dubai time. Everything was ready two hours early and I was left wondering why everybody was arriving late.’ Alan
Monster clean-up operations
An Australian teen threw a party which caused almost Dhs57,300 worth of damage in 2008, after 500 teenagers turned up to his family home in Melbourne. It took 30 police officers, a police helicopter and dog squad to break up what unrepentant 16-year-old host Corey Delaney declared ‘the best party ever’.
Four teenagers were arrested in March after 50-100 people turned up to a party in Massachusetts, which resulted in damages valued at Dhs165,300 to the property.
Back in 2006, another teenage house party – hosted by a 13-year-old – spiraled out of control in Canada’s British Columbia, resulting in almost Dhs250,000 worth of damage to her father’s home.