I’m lucky to have lots of great people people in my life, but I know I’m guilty of not prioritising time for them. But honestly, even a phone call with a friend brings more happiness than anything I could buy. And whilst I enjoy eating out with friends, I always feel like there’s a finitude to a meal like that – once you’ve finished eating it’s time to move on. Whilst there’s a great array of bars and clubs in Edinburgh – that’s not exactly a child friendly option and not really that conducive to conversation!

So the obvious alternative is to host your own dinner party – there’s no time limit on that, you can easily cater for tastes, and there’s no need for a babysitter (unless you’d like one!). Admittedly that ordinarily takes a lot of time and preparation; there’s the shopping, cooking, and clearing up… BUT that’s where the secret to hosting a dinner party with no stress comes in…

Hire a Private Chef

Recently, I was approached by La Belle Assiette to ask if I would host a dinner party in order to ‘validate’ a new chef to Edinburgh. They basically wanted me to give a chef the opportunity to showcase their skills, whilst being judged by me a my guests. The chef would shop for ingredients, cook, serve and even clean up afterwards. All I would have to do is relax and enjoy time with my friends.

So obviously – I said yes! I’m not insane.

How it worked

After registering on the La Belle Assiette website, I was contacted by Chef Lesley Richards to discuss the menu and timing for the dinner. She had a number of different menus for us to choose from but was  very happy to amend these to fit our tastes. We talked through each course together, chatted about what my kitchen was like, and really what I wanted out of the meal. She was really easy to talk to and I felt utterly assured that everything would be taken care of. I wasn’t sure whether my Mum would be able to have the kids for the night at this point, but Chef Lesley asked about their tastes and was quite happy to cook something for them as well. It honestly seemed like a dream!

My prep ‘work’

Given that all the shopping, cooking and cleaning was going to be taken care of. I set about how I could give my friends a real treat. Last year, I attended a Taittinger Tasting event at The Pantryin which they had served different champagnes with different types of food. Given that venison was on the menu I wasn’t quite sure this would work – but after a little more research I thought why not just go for it?!

My Mum was amazing helping me source the different champagnes –  and actually found an amazing sparkling wine from a vineyard in Kent. So I honestly can’t claim all the credit for the wine menu but it turned out to be amazing.

I knew I wanted something a little different for the table so Charlotte (from The Pantry) arranged for me to borrow a few things from the events side of things. Whilst my amazing Mum also popped into Petals by the Shore in Leith, to pick up some flowers and eucalyptus for the table.

So in short, all I had to do was set the table and source some wine. Pretty amazing.

The evening itself

Chef Lesley arrived very promptly at 6pm and quickly occupied the kitchen to start cooking. Although she had been able to do some prep work in her own home – meaning she wasn’t occupying my kitchen all day – there was still lots to do and it was amazing to see her just calmly do about fifty things at once!

All I had to do was faff about with the table a bit, ensure the champagne was chilled enough and light a few candles! My friends arrived at 7pm and I was able to greet them with a glass of Balfour Brut Rose 2014. We spent the next half hour chatting away in the living room knowing that the meal was being taken care of. At 7.30 I let Lesley know that we were all ready to eat and made our way through to the dining room to sit down for dinner.

For our starter, she served Haggis Bon Bons with Whisky Dipping Sauce which I matched with Taittinger Prelude Grand Crus. This champagne as a much fuller complex flavour so really was able to stand up to the flavour of the bon bona which were just incredible: covered in a panko breadcrumb crust and served on a bed of rocket – they were the perfect starter.

Shortly after finishing, our plates were clearly and we had some time to finish our wine before Lesley asked if we were ready for the main course – a venison stew accompanied by skirlie, seasonal greens and an array of roasted veg. Our plates were soon heaped with delicious food with every element perfectly complementing each other.

Whilst stew would traditionally merit a big red wine, I knew that a vintage champagne also has a lot of body so served Marks and Spencer’s Champagne Oudinot Vintage. Thankfully, my guests seemed to agree that this worked and the guys happily tucked into a second portion of stew to enjoy alongside it!

For dessert, Chef Lesley served Creme Brûlée with a deconstructed Cranachan on the side. It was fun to see her using a blow torch out of the corner of my eye – entirely safe in the knowledge that there’s no way on earth I would’ve been able to do anything similar myself. Aside from not having the hassle of shopping, cooking or serving every element of the meal was way beyond my ability. It really was like having a restaurant in the comfort of my own home.

Our dining room and kitchen are open plan but – blow torch aside – I don’t remember noticing any element of the cooking. There was no clashing of pans or surprising noises… just wafts of delicious food!

We enjoyed the Creme Brûlée with the final champagne of the night – the Taittinger Brut NV. It’s a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and has a nice honey tone to it. I thought it complemented the deconstructed Cranachan well so the traditional whiskey accompaniment wasn’t missed.

By the time we had finished our glasses, not only had our plates been cleared but everything in the kitchen had been washed and put away. You would never had known we had just had a three course-meal. All I had to do was thank Chef Lesley – try not to convey undying love whilst waving her off – and make some espresso martinis for my guests.

I think we ended up heading to bed about 1am – with half of our guests staying over. The only thing that necessitated an end to the night was our eventual tiredness. There was no pressure to move on or to order more to keep the table. We were truly free to just enjoy the company of our friends.

The cost?

As we were hosting a ‘validation’ dinner La Belle Assiette took care of the bill – obviously I paid for the alcohol and flowers – but ordinarily prices start from £39 per guest for six. There’s numerous menu options available though and these vary according to date. For example, only slightly pricier menus are available on Christmas Day. I wasn’t obligated to write this review but wanted to in order to share the secret! For more information, and for bookings, you can also visit La Belle Assiette online.

Photo credit to Alex Hallwho was commissioned by La Belle Assiette to document our evening! He’s a LOVELY guy if you’re looking for a photographer.

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