Chocolate’s on the menu

Chocolate’s on the menu

Of course chocolate’s on the menu, but usually as your favourite dessert.

Have you considered trying chocolate in all your dishes, both savoury and sweet?

Rabot 1745

Head to Borough Market in London and you will find this little chocolate gem of a restaurant.

Restaurant Rabot 1745 is part of the Hotel Chocolat empire, and in fact there is a shop and cafe beneath the restaurant if you just want a hot chocolate and a chocolate treat.

Book a table at the restaurant and you will find every course includes chocolate, even the mash! It’s a wonderful experience and well worth a trip.

Read on to see what I chose from the menu…..

One for the Bucket List

The London restaurant is inspired by the original, located on the island of St Lucia in the Caribbean. You can visit the Rabot Estate, stay in the boutique hotel, book yourself and tree to bar experience, and eat in the restaurant.

It’s definitely on my bucket list when the world opens up again. In the meantime, if you can make it to London you can try the next best thing.

Head to the Toilets!

If you want to get into the mood, then firstly head to the toilets. You can hear cicadas (piped into the loos) and (almost) imagine you are in a rather more exotic location.

A great first impression

Once you sit down you are greeted with a small plate of freshly roasted cacao beans from the St Lucia Estate. They are wonderful, and really set the tone of the evening.

The menu

I started with a bread and dip selection, that included cacao pesto & cocoa infused oil. It was really tasty.

Next I opted for some fish that included a cocoa nib crust. Chocolate is quite savoury in it’s natural state, so it did not seem odd for the fish to have a cocoa addition at all.

We had to try the mash as we’d heard it talked about by others. A white chocolate-infused mash sounds quite disgusting, but i can confirm it was delicious.

A trio of chocolate mousse

Of course, by the time you get to pudding, it’s all very familiar territory, but I opted for a trio of mousse which showcased different strengths and styles of chocolate and it was truly decedent and another scrummy dish. Sorry that I took the picture after I’d eaten a bit too much, there definitely should have been a before shot!

The menu changes with the seasons, so why not take a look and see what you would choose!

If you decide to visit, don’t forget to pop to my facebook page and tell us about your experience.

What’s was on your chocolate menu?

7 tips for planning the best dinner party menu

7 tips for planning the best dinner party menu

In part two of my guide to hosting the best dinner parties, we are dealing with the big deal – the menu.

It’s a bit dry – not a drink in sight. Please don’t worry as tipples, and some great ideas for showing off (and a few cheats) are covered in part 3.

Here are my 7 tips for planning the best dinner party menu:

Canapes/nibbles

Smoked salmon and sour cream on crackers

Push the boat out or open a posh bag of crisps and some nuts? This will depend on what (or if) you are doing for a starter.

If you are just opening some nice crisps, you could make a dip or two to serve with them to make nibbles a little more exciting.  

I sometimes just do posher nibbles/canapes at this stage and go straight to the main at the table rather than a starter too.

What do I mean when I say a posh nibble?

Well, it can be easy like smoked salmon and cream cheese blinis (you can cheat on buying the blinis. 

They are quite simple to make though if you want to be totally home-made).

We have a wonderful local baker that does the best crostini ever. I love to make toppings for these and hand these around with drinks. This might include homemade pesto, crab cocktail, smoked mackerel pate, or tapenade for example.

 There are some really elegant ideas for canapes, and you can spend a lot of time making gorgeous bites of delight for your guests to enjoy. Your call – but it can set the tone for the evening.

Remember to keep things small so they can be popped in, in one bite.

Starters

three dips in white bowls with bread

What’s for main – this will determine what type of starter you want to create?

I love a fishy dishy. 

I would probably avoid this if I’m having fish as a main (although I have been known to opt for double fish when ordering off a menu). I’m the daughter of a fish merchant from Billingsgate. What else would you expect?

 Veggie is perfect as it tends to be lighter and will not likely clash with what’s coming next. Beetroot, mushrooms, salads, fruits and cheese are all great. Don’t get too cheesy if you have planned a cheese course.

Go a little daring with a souffle?

Get ahead with beautiful little tarts, terrines, or a pate?

You can make or buy some wonderful breads and simple dip into quality oil and vinegar.  

I love to make dukka (a middle eastern nut and spice blend that is so simple to make and super-tasty). 

You dip your bread in oil (go for something like rapeseed for this) then into your dukka.

All rather rustic and a bit of fun.

Mains

The star of the show.

Why not take the opportunity to splash out and go full-on farm-shop meat fest, or something special from the fishmonger?

It’s an excuse to try that cut you would never add to the Sunday lunch. Go gourmet with your fish, which is a bit too extravagant for every day. 

If this is the case, you will wish to work the rest of your menu around your very special main. Keep other courses lighter if this will ensure that the main doesn’t get overwhelmed.

I still love to focus on what I can make ahead here, especially with the main course.

Beef goulash in a bowl with a wooden spoon containing pepper

A posh fish pie, a wonderful stew or casserole, a large roast joint, a whole fish. I love to bring something big and beautiful to the table. 

Your sides need to sing in harmony too. What goes well together? Think about colour and textures, what do you need on the plate? Will a decadent potato dish will make the grade? Remember less is more here. 

If you are serving lots of other courses, you don’t need lots of accompaniments too.

You may decide there will not be a star, but a whole host of supporting acts working wonderfully together – a buffet of delights?  

If you need to factor in special dietary requirements – go to tip 7.

Puddings/desserts

If chocolate is your go-to pud, take a look at my top of the chocs for some inspiration. Let’s face it, finish a meal with chocolate and your guests will love you forever.

Is pud your thing or not? 
Chocolate pudding in a glass with blueberries and raspberries

I would probably focus more on the other courses to be honest. I think you can legitimately cheat here too! More on this in the next instalment…..

Make sure the pud compliments everything else. What textures would work well with the rest of the meal? Have you had any pastry yet for example? Do you need something refreshing, something lighter and fruity perhaps?  

You may wish to offer a choice. Have one or two big puds, or instead, a range of mini puds. A trio works well. Make sure each of the puds is a good contrast, nothing too samey.

If they are really good friends, you may find they bring a pud with them and you are totally off the hook.

Cheeseboard

Two cheeses, one soft and one blue cheese

I LOVE CHEESE.  

I also love a good cracker, some like a bit of bread. Don’t forget the grapes, the celery, the chutney, chilli jam, or gorgeous quince paste (membrillo). Have you tried your cheese with cake – this is also delicious. You can get some interesting cake-flavour crackers. There are some really good quality crackers out there, don’t skimp on these if you are showcasing some great cheese.

You can decide if you are being British or French in the order you serve your cheese course.  

I find guests often nibble at cheese throughout the rest of the evening. I often serve cheese last and leave it in the middle of the table. 

If you prefer ‘du fromage’ – then serve your cheese course before pudding.  

It may be that you decide on only fruit and nuts and something nice with coffee, without a big pudding option if you are going all out on the cheese. Yum.

So if I’m being a generalist – I will ensure I have a blue, something soft and smelly, a bit of goat, and something hard like manchego, gruyere, or a really strong cheddar.  

If you can, pop to a local deli and ask their advice about what wonderful cheese they have to recommend. 

Coffee/teas & Petit fours

espresso coffee, biscotti and sugar cubes

I’m partial to a decent coffee and like many have invested in a coffee machine at home. If offering espresso’s these are so nice from the machine – full of wonderful crema. You might wish to go Italian-style and serve in a Moka pot, or a cafetiere. Please don’t serve the instant stuff. After all your hard work in the kitchen, we don’t want the coffee to let us down. Remember to grab some decaf, as some will not want caffeine that late in the evening.

Peppermint/jasmine/camomile teas are lovely and refreshing at the end of the meal. If mint is in season, pop some in your pot/individual cups and pour on boiling water – fresh mint tea is the best.

Even though everyone is full, you can’t beat a little sweet treat with your coffee. Make some truffles, buy a posh box of chocolates or after-dinner mints to hand round.

The veggies (or vegans) are coming

We eat vegetarian food most of the time. At first, I wasn’t overly confident and tended to ‘cheat’ a bit with veggie alternatives. Now I’ve learned to make the veggies the star of the show.  

Salad leaves, pear, lentils and beetroots

I often make a series of smaller veggie things to enjoy together. In the summer, I love to put up a range of salads for example. If I can, I will try and get a little adventurous with ingredients. The dressing can make or break a dish.

 Vegan diets I do find a little more challenging because I can tend to panic about what I can’t do. With a bit of planning and a calm head, there are many wonderful options you can make. There is no excuse not to find great recipes to cater for all dietary requirements and lifestyle choices.

You need to decide if you will serve up different menus or decide on courses that everyone can eat. (I did try to look up the etiquette for this but did not find a definite answer.) It’s about making everyone comfortable, included, and providing a warm foodie welcome.

Check on dietary requirements, allergies, etc, and ask their advice if you are not sure.  

Happy eating – here are 7 tips for creating the best dinner party menu:
  • If you have a fav dish you are dying to try, work the menu around that. Something that you want to do will jump out at you, be that starter, main, or pud. Once you have this element, you have something to work with.
  • Are you having nibbles or canapes?
  • What’s for starter/main/pudding?
  • Any cheese, please?
  • Care for coffee and chocs?
  • Does everything flow, compliment, and go together – do you need to add any texture or colour to the menu?
  • If you are having trouble with inspiration, look at food bloggers and food magazines and get some ideas for what’s on-trend!

In part one we got all your pre-dinner planning underway – now you have inspiration for your menu. Tune in for tipples, showing off, and cheats in the third and final part of my guide.

What are you putting on the menu – come and share on my Facebook page and let’s get chatting about all things food! 

7 Tips for Planning the Best Dinner Party

7 Tips for Planning the Best Dinner Party

As we are allowed to invite guests into our house again, it’s time to dust off those cookbooks and get planning some foodie gatherings.  

There is so much to say, so I’ve broken it down into a handy three-part guide. This is our starter. What to plot and plan before we even get thinking about the actual menu (covered in part two).  

In the final part of my guide, we will finish our dinner party with a flourish. We tackle the booze, some cheats, and most importantly how to enjoy yourself.

Here are my 7 tips for planning the best dinner party:

Confidence Levels

Kneading dough on a floured board

How are you feeling about your forthcoming dinner party? Really on it and ready to show off, or feeling a little rusty in the dinner party cooking department? Be honest with yourself and devise a menu that might push you a little out of your comfort zone, but not too much. If you are worried, then keep it simple (but not too simple, see tip 3 below).

It’s not a Competition

My best friend is one of the best cooks I know. Whenever I go to hers for dinner it is amazing. She’s ambitious in her choice of menu. She creates outstanding food, and she is such a natural at it. I’m not as good as her in the kitchen. I’m more than fine and I do a fab job, but she is just better at it than me. I can find myself worrying about what to serve her when she comes to us. We are not in competition. I have to do my thing, my way.  

Remember it’s not just about the food. It’s the fact that you have been invited out, the ambiance of the evening and blimey, someone is cooking your dinner. Don’t try and be something you are not, your guests will be delighted to have been invited! 

Banish the Spag Bol

plate of spaghetti bolognese

If it’s something you serve up all the time for family dinners, don’t put it on the menu. It’s likely your guests will be eating the same at home too. Let’s change it up a bit. Be a little bit more ambitious in your food choices. Your guests won’t want to come out to eat something they have at home every week. You don’t have to do something super-complicated, but you can try something new(ish), trendy, fresh, and still keep it fairly simple.  

What’s for dinner?

pile of cookery books

This is my absolute favourite bit (as well as seeing friends of course on the big night). Getting out the cookbooks, pouring over recipes, and coming up with the menu is as much fun as the big night for me. I can spend hours pouring over stuff. When I’m happy with the whole thing, I just know. I have to tweak and fiddle until I get that feeling that it’s just right.

Don’t panic, help on menu planning is at hand. I’m going into more detail on the specifics of your menu in part two. You want to aim for balance, texture, interest, variety, colour. For example, you don’t want to serve a monster pie for the main course, followed by a pastry pudding. Think about what accompaniments you can add to the main course to ensure you are not serving up 50 shades of beige!

Most important, and key to the success of the whole thing, is my next tip…….

They came to see you

You have to decide how much time you are willing to be in the kitchen at your dinner party. Maybe you are hosting the outlaws, or your partners’ colleagues and the kitchen is feeling rather appealing!

For me, planning a menu that gives me maximum time with my guests is imperative. I will often not add a dish to the menu if there is too much last-minute faffing. If I’m set on serving up something which does require some effort in the moment, then I will ensure that my other dishes are make-ahead or minimum effort so that I minimise my time in the kitchen overall. It can hamper your choices a bit. That will be your call, however, the more you can do ahead, the more you will feel in control on the big night.

The table plan

Lady laying dinner table

Who are the people you are inviting? Will they get along? Are you aiming to mix in some new friends? This element can be a little out of your control (yes, we’ve all had that awkward experience). You may have every good intention of mixing new people, but you can’t guarantee the chemistry. If you want to ensure a good atmosphere, make sure you mix in some good friends who will come to your aid should the conversation dry up a little.

 Formal/informal on where people are to sit – it’s up to you. You will want to be closest to the kitchen with easy access to and from the table. 

You may wish to mix couples up, so they get to talk to different people.  

Use name places if you want to be more formal about it – there are some lovely and fun options around. 

I have a set with names on like ‘stud’, ‘flirt’ etc, so if you know them well enough that can be a bit of a giggle to get started!

Timed to perfection

Two cartoon chefs beside a clock with an fried egg in the centre

Many years ago, I went to a lovely Sunday lunch, hosted by a London socialite friend who had got a great bunch of interesting people together. It was a lovely summery lunch, with a whole salmon and all the trimmings – but she got her timings so wrong. I don’t know if she forgot to switch the oven on, or if the oven wasn’t working properly. She had oodles of gin of offer and everyone was completely plastered well before lunch was served. We even got sent to the pub for an hour while she got back on track. Needless to say, most of us couldn’t remember the lunch. 

We did have a fabulous time and a real laugh about it and here I am still talking about it today.

You need to decide when you wish to eat your main course and work backward from there.

How long will you allow for drinks/nibbles?

Are you serving a starter? 

Factor in the time required for this, plus a little rest time between courses.

Bear in mind you usually eat later, and people have saved themselves for a bigger meal. You may find you don’t want too many drinks before you eat. I love a pre-dinner drink, nothing tastes quite as lovely. I am conscious I’ve still got to get the meal out!

Once you have served your main course, you can relax and take things a little slower. I sometimes pop the rest on the table all at once. It may not be quite the done thing? If I put the puddings and cheese on together, I can sit back and take a deep breath – all the hard work is done!

In summary, my 7 tips for planning the best dinner party are:
  • How are you feeling?
  • Who are you going to ask along?
  • How much showing off are you going to want to do?
  • What are you not going to serve (maybe you done it before and want something new)?
  • Work out how much time away from your guests is involved.
  • Think about your timings for the night.
  • Get a long list together of potential menu options

In part two of my handy guide to hosting the best dinner parties, we shall be looking at the main event – the menu – in more detail.   

 If you want to discuss food, drinks, and chocolate then please pop to my Facebook page.