While the effects of Coronavirus may be posing something of a culinary challenge to even the ablest of chefs, it has provided the perfect reason to get creative – and elevate the home dining experience in other ways instead.
Extravagant centre-pieces, or tablescapes, have been a thing since the days of Downton Abbey and beyond according to Tatler magazine in a recent article.
“They were first introduced during the 18th century as a means for the upper classes to show off their wealth, hiring decorators to create theatrical scenes with elaborate silver ornaments – which were talked about more than the food that was actually served”. Read more, ‘Easy and Affordable Ways to Class Up A Dinner Party.’
“The Prince Regent’s Feast at Carlton House in 1811 reportedly had a ‘canal of pure water’ running down the centre table, according to Gentlemen’s Magazine, with ‘banks covered with green moss aquatic flowers; gold and silver fish swam and sported through the bubbling current.” Read more, ‘Tips For Remaking Your Space While You’re Homebound.’
While we are not encouraging anyone to create a flood in their dining room – or hire table decorators for that matter, given current social distancing rules – there is no excuse for not getting creative. As Mrs Beeton wrote in her Book of Household Management in 1884, if it is the mere act of going down to the garden and adding ‘flowers on the table, there is no reason why they should not be employed every day.’
Inspiration for modern day tablescapes comes in the form of Instagram influencers and Pinterest queens.
Look no further than the founder of Hoste London, @iamlaurajackson. The TV presenter has started the #makeamealofit movement encouraging us to stop and make mealtimes fancy. With paella cook-a-long events and Mexican-themed taco Tuesdays, she even makes a humble cheese jacket potato for her baby look a divine dining experience. Read more, ‘How To Set a Stunning Table.’
We totally agree with her top tips which include: ‘A candle and low lighting is great for setting the mood’; and use all the ‘nice plates’; ‘Food doesn’t have to be fancy,’ she states, ‘Tonight we are having leftovers from the freezer just arranged on a nice plate with a sprinkle of herbs’. Read more, ‘How Coronavirus Will Change Our Homes In The Next Decade.’
Tablescape guru Fiona Leahy (@fionaleahy) is taking her love of the extravagant to transform the solo dining experience, even upscaling her tray to epic proportions: ‘Self love for me is to elevate the ordinary and to celebrate intimate entertaining at home’.
For a ‘tablescape for one use the good china and burn those candles’, as ‘we need the light,’ she told her thousands of ardent followers on Instagram. A few new tray tips I’ve discovered recently; Use an egg cup as a mini vase, perfect for a little single bud as egg cups are petite and stemmed and add that little height we need.’
‘Taking joy and feeling gratitude in the small pleasures seems a helpful way to have some daily beauty and self love in our lives.”
For more table-based inspiration check out @libertylondon, always a treasure trove for unique maximalist household pieces, Chelsea based @fionafinds Instagram account for crockery and quirky table laying, @roseandgreyinteriors for their spring Scandi-chic crockery, ready to deliver a pretty update to your table, and @petershamnurseries for the ultimate lesson in how nature and lighting can create something wow. Read more, ‘7 Steps To Mastering The Casual Summer Dinner Party.’
So think of a theme, dust off your best heirloom crockery, be adventurous and make an average Saturday night takeaway feel like a private feast in the Ritz to share with friends (on HouseParty, not IRL obviously).
And even if you live in a shoebox, honour mealtimes and your presence at the table. Put a beautiful fabric over the table or display a bunch of berries with a loaf of fresh bread, which sends a positive message every time you sit down to a meal “I care about myself”.
Remember, you can make plain chicken look great on a bed of curly endive with a couple of poached eggs on top, seasoned with cracked pepper and salt. Cost $6 a head; chic value 10 out of 10. At the other end of the spectrum we’ve seen fabulous catered nosh look like a fry-up in student digs after a hosted with no flair has plated it up. Cost $100 a head. Chic value 0 out of 10. Even if you cling to old recipes, look at upmarket recipes online to see how food should be served. Big white plates with any splashes wiped away is a good start.
Setting the table is like dressing yourself.
Look for quality, balance, understated elegance and character. Even if all you’re having is a meat pie, a great table setting will make it seem like so much more. Do set the table for yourself and your family, before you sit down – you don’t want to be flapping around with cutlery and napkins when the food needs to be served.
Have a decent pepper mill, and fill salt cellars generously with sea salt flakes. Forget all matching tablecloths, napkins, coaster and placemats. They scream ‘I have no taste and personality”. Mix things up. A few tendrils of green leaves or a big bowl of citrus fruit might be all you need to add embellishment, and won’t divide the table.