These come in good colours and are quite easy to find. They are perfect for serving hors d’oeuvres before dinner and because they look so good they make even quite ordinary things – or at least easy-to-find things, like silver-skin cocktail onions, little gherkins, quails’ eggs, little hunks of Parmesan or Pecorino – look great.
This is a very easy way of doing a first course. Not only does most of it come out of a jar, but it also doesn’t constrict you to sitting at the table, which I find impossible to do when I am trying to make sure the main course isn’t overcooked.
Again, worth looking for in antiques shops or craft fairs. There is nothing nicer than putting a big serving dish with everything on it on the table. Whether it’s bangers and mash, fish fingers with mash and peas, or a roast with all the vegetables, food looks really inviting on one plate. When you are buying china, bear in mind how things are going to work together. They don’t have to match but the styles and colours should look good together and mix well. You do, of course, have to think about the food too. You can’t have a beautiful plate and serve filthy food, but if you keep to simple things you shouldn’t go too far wrong. Even the simplest dishes look so much more appealing served on beautiful platters and people will think you know what you’re doing. And very soon you will.
I like buying different sorts of glasses. I often serve wine in small tumblers, something many people do in France. You can sometimes find these little green glasses that are wonderful and very cheap. You can use them for wine, champagne or espresso, or for portion-controlled glasses of fizzy drinks for visiting children. Little glasses are so pretty and coloured ones can look jewel-like on the table. I don’t think coloured glass is great for coloured drinks – blue glass makes all red drinks look like poison. But I do think you can serve white wine in green glass or in any pink or red glass, which also works for pink drinks.
I buy old carafes for serving water rather than wine, particularly useful if you use a water filter instead of bottled water and so much smarter than a jug. If you have trouble finding old carafes, look out for the fancy bottles of lemonade sold in some delis and bottle shops. They have china and rubber seal tops and make perfect water bottles.
Laying the Table
The way a dining table looks is important because it instantly creates an atmosphere. You can lay it the same way your whole life or you can have fun. I’m not talking about themed tables, so don’t panic. But you can change the colour scheme with the flowers you choose, the type of glasses (coloured or clear), the napkins and tablecloth, and what sort of side plates you have. I must admit that I often don’t have room for side plates because I’m always trying to squish too many people round the table. Your table won’t always be immaculate; what matters is to have friends around it. Sometimes I don’t have a chance to do anything at all. Recently I spoke to some friends late in the afternoon and invited them over for supper that evening. I didn’t get out of my last meeting until 7.30 and the table was still a desk when my friends sat down to pick at pitta bread and taramasalata while I was unpacking ready-roasted chickens from the supermarket and trying to sauté some leeks. Mercifully, everyone was pretty relaxed and the state of the table couldn’t have mattered less.