As residents move to socialise indoors, Penelope Walsh learns how to host the perfect dinner party in Dubai.
Summer sees the city’s dining scene slow down, Dubai’s residents scurry indoors to escape the heat and thoughts wander to new and exciting ways to entertain at home. According to Prashant Sethumadhavan from Procat Catering Services, July and August spark a busy time for dinner parties in Dubai: Procat typically serves 20 to 25 events during this period, in addition to clients requesting iftar events for friends and families.
Although party catering has been a strong industry in Dubai for some time, in the past 12 months we’ve seen the launch of new companies, such as boutique independent catering service Marta’s Kitchen in JLT. There’s also a growth in cooking classes, with the opening of schools such as Top Chef in Jumeirah and Scafa in JLT, suggesting an increased desire in Dubai to dine in, share food made by our own fair hands.
Not everyone, however, is a dab hand at party planning, so to help you host a successful event, for guests from all Dubai walks of life, we’ve enlisted the help of three party caterers, Prashant from Procat Catering Services, Marta Yannci from Marta’s Kitchen and Paul Harding from Dish.
According to Prashant and Paul, a great starting point for planning a party is a theme and some are proving more popular than others this season. Paul has noticed a growing trend for Cuba inspired parties ‘with a Cuban music, and food to match and it’s like you have stepped into Cuba’ Prashant agrees that a theme can add direction to your planning and ‘zest’ to the party, suggesting Hollywood, Wild West, Bollywood, back to school and colour themes are all examples that have worked in the past. Depending on your budget, Prashant adds, entertainment is worth exploring.
‘There are endless options for entertainment in Dubai, especially if the event is planned in advance. A DJ can help a party. Music, stand up comedians or even live cooking stations are options worth exploring.’
Equally Marta, from Marta’s Kitchen has noted a Dubai trend for parties on yachts, as well as magicians and even Flamenco dancers.
Of course there can be no party without food and how nibbles are served is changing. ‘Gone are the days of buffets,’ Paul tells us, and while the popularity of canapés prevails, both Paul and Marta have noticed an increased popularity, in what they term ‘bowl dishes’, literary slightly more substantial dishes served in bowls. Prashant, however, notes that certain classic canapés continue to be the most requested including smoked salmon, roast beef or brie with walnut. For Marta, the most popular canapés of the moment are croquets (made with home-made béchamel) as well as Marta’s Kitchen’s unique creation. ‘Our beef tenderloin over purple puree [made with cabbage] with apple and coriander salsa seems to be a favourite among clients who like new and exciting flavours.’ According to Marta, one very new dinner party trend is health food. ‘People in Dubai have become a lot more health conscious lately. We get asked for fresh, healthy menus a lot more now than we did a few months back.’
Nevertheless, all three of our expert caterers agree that in a multi-cultural city like Dubai, the food can depend entirely on the culture of your guests. ‘North Indian groups request tandoori breads and meats to be made on site, which entails carrying a tandoor to the party venue,’ Prashant notes, but he adds that Indian families are ‘always a challenge due to the range of cuisine which varies from region to region and state to state (28 in all). ‘On the whole, Indians want buffets and so do Arabic locals,’ Paul adds, explaining that Indians (and also Lebanese clients) like to serve greater quantities food.
Marta has noticed similar trends. ‘I can tell you my Indian clients really like buffets. For them, as they explain, it is a cultural thing. They feel even if you prepare 30 canapés per person, because it is just small bites, it seems like not enough, so they prefer a nice big buffet with plenty of options. British seem to enjoy our ‘food in a bowl’ concept (small dishes, served in little bowls that fit in your hand) and the majority of fine dining experiences I organise seems to be for Swiss clients.’
Other ways that you can ensure your guests are comfortable include, for Arabic guests, checking in advance whether an all-female environment (including any waiting staff) would be more appropriate, and for Indian guests, checking if any guests are vegetarian, or Jain (which requires strict dietary observances, such as no tubers). Also, if unsure, leave some meats of the menu entirely, including beef to be safe.
Private catering prices start from Dhs250 per person, Dish, www.dish.ae (04 422 1613). From Dhs110 per person (canapé menu), Marta’s Kitchen, www.martaskitchen.com (050 379 8002). From Dhs 45 per person, Procat Catering Services, www.procat.ae (04 885 9990).
Dos and don’ts for dinner guests
Marta Yanci from Marta’s Kitchen shares her guide to dinner party etiquette for guests in Dubai
Bring a present: you can play it safe and get a nice bouquet of flowers, or a box of chocolates that can then be shared with the rest of the guests at the end of the evening.
Praise the host for their organisation skills and thank them for having you at the party.
Turn down food when offered. You will make the host feel bad and that he or she has not made the right choices for the guests.
Leave before dessert is served, especially if your are at a birthday party (where a cake may be produced at the end of the meal) or a formal sit down dinner, with a reduced number of guests.
Worry too much about being late, as long as it’s only 30 minutes – we’ve noticed that at 90 percent of our events this is a Dubai norm.
Essential tips for hosts
Prashant Sethumadhavan from Procat Catering Services shares his tips for hosting a dinner party
1 Plan well in advance where possible and give your guests sufficient time to respond to your invites. Once you get confirmations, do send a detailed location map for newcomers or be prepared to waste time and energy giving directions separately.
2 Have sufficient and optimum seating arrangements for your guests. Low tables and sofas are not ideally suited to consume dinner where guests will be forced to hold the plates in one hand throughout their meal. A few cocktail tables (high stand around ones) will come in handy for guests to park their glasses or plate of snacks.
3 Be aware that guests may have various allergies – nuts, shellfish, lactose intolerance for example. Mark these dishes clearly on a menu or with a card.
4 Have all cold beverages chilled well in advance and buy plenty of ice.
5 Call back the next day to check if all your guests reached their destinations safely, find out if they enjoyed the party and to thank them for attending.
6 If you have the budget, include entertainment, a DJ, dance area, party games, karaoke if feasible. Find contacts through an agency such as Bare Face www.barefaceentertainment.com
7 In addition to professional caterers, you can also hire a professional bar man to make mixed drinks. At Party Mood, they can provide bartenders, waiters and even glass hire. www.partymood.ae