Bespoke catering for intimate gatherings focuses on clean eating, restaurant-style dining and a touch of drama for an unforgettable experience
Bring together your loved ones in a house party, and do it in style by bookmarking the season’s hottest food trends. The intent is to curate an experience that makes each guest feel special.
1. Bring the restaurant home
At many house parties, you can find food that matches menus at upscale restaurants in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, alongside the look and feel of the restaurant itself. “We (literally) recreate our iconic restaurants, getting our guests to have the finest dining experience in an intimate setting,” says Sudhir Barabari, general manager of Soulinaire, the four-year-old catering arm of Indian Hotels Co. Ltd (IHCL). During the 2020 pandemic lockdown, they began organising exclusive breakfast buffets in farmhouses. This turned into a viable business in the National Capital Region (NCR), Punjab and Rajasthan. In November, Soulinaire will launch in Ahmedabad with an all-vegetarian and vegan menu. The food is served in an enviable collection of Villeroy & Boch and Noritake dinnerware. It’s not unusual for them to fly a seasoned chef from Hyderabad to Ludhiana to cook the very flavourful Hyderabadi biryani at the venue. Recently, for a birthday party, they recreated a five-course meal that’s served in Varq, the iconic Indian restaurant at the Taj Mahal, Delhi, with décor elements contributing to the look and feel of the experience. At another house party, guests enjoyed 45 signature dishes from IHCL restaurants, such as Machan, House of Ming, and Varq.
Chef Manu Chandra’s Single Thread, a luxury bespoke catering company launched last year, is known for innovative menus. Goat cheese-stuffed ram laddoos, rhododendron martinis, bathua-spinach-feta-mustard oil green dip, and croissant dough kachoris are just some of the dishes making it to people’s homes.
Getting the experience just right at home is crucial to hosts. Most of the experts Lounge spoke to said that some hosts are ready to spend upwards of ₹3,000 per head on house parties for a minimum of 20 people. Sometimes, the cost can go higher for the most intimate gatherings. A guest invited to a Diwali house party for 30-40 people last year said the host spent roughly ₹20,000 per person on food alone.
2. Food that moves
When you open your home to guests, they will move around, mingle and find their favourite corners to settle into. The food, therefore, needs to be convenient enough to carry around, serve and eat anywhere. Enter, flying buffets that allow for smaller portions of what you would typically be served in a buffet. A flying buffet is not to be confused with canapés. Think of a flying buffet as an experience of pre-plated dishes containing small portions of appetisers and main course items that circulate through the room or home.
The food is high on flavour and lightweight, ensuring minimal wastage. Think bit-sized portions of rajma galauti on roti, vada pao and butter chicken on toasted pita. Gaia Gourmet, a Mumbai- and Goa-based bespoke catering company which specialises in flying buffets, designed such a menu for film director Zoya Akhtar’s intimate house party in August with Tuna on Crispy Stick Rice, Lobster Mac and Cheese, Butternut Squash and Truffle Ravioli and Massaman Raan.
Innovative and delectable bite-sized foods are light on the tummy and the plate. Mumbai-based chef Bhakti Mehta, of the gourmet catering brand Little Food Co, synergises Indian flavours with an international twist, with items like jackfruit and brie samosas, burrata saag, beet and goat cheese tikki, tempura patta chaat with dahi foam, salmon agua chile paani puri and edamame goat cheese galouti kebabs. These will qualify as impressive essentials for home-style small plates.
3. Eat clean
An attentive host takes note of guests’ needs. While the festive season is a time for gluttony, there are those who indulge with a touch of guilt. Lighten their load with a delish menu that offers healthy options, a trend that’s on the rise post-pandemic. More caterers are finding ways to incorporate vegan, gluten-free or carb-free options into their menus without compromising on taste and flavour.
Shreyaa Shah, who runs the popular Shreyaa’s Kitchen in the NCR, went to Bali, Indonesia, to attend a vegan food workshop two months ago and expand her menu for the festive season. Shah’s special vegan menu includes chocolate mousse, vanilla cheesecake, dill cream cheese dip with flax seed crackers, and Korean-inspired vegan dishes developed with a nutritionist. Delhi-based Savar Malhotra, founder of The House Party by Savar, will add a vegan menu for the festive season, starting next month, as it makes its debut in Mumbai this year.
4. The travelling gourmand
Take your guests around the world through food. “Well-travelled Indians want regional cuisines from different parts of the world,” says chef Sadik Khan, a consultant with Foodlink, a Mumbai-based luxury catering company that fulfils such demands. This year, their focus is on Japanese prefectures, with food that goes beyond sushi and ramen. They have yakitori from prefectures such as Akita and Miyazaki, miso bowls (from the Nagano prefecture), and takoyaki (from the Osaka prefecture). Khan says he is also firming up menus inspired by Singapore’s hawker food culture.
For a recent house party in Mumbai, a client made a last-minute request for baladi, a soft, creamy, regional cheese of Dubai. A Foodlink employee was on the next flight to Dubai to bring home five kilograms of it. It’s not unusual for Foodlink events to have wasabi, seaweed, caviar and truffles flown in from different parts of the globe, depending on the customer’s requests. For some very high-end clients, they fly in professional chefs from Belgium for waffles, Naples for pizzas, and Beirut and Barcelona for special dishes from these regions.
Korean, Thai and Malaysian cuisine will continue to drive house parties this festive season. According to Sajat Jain, co-founder and CEO of the Delhi-based House of Wok, these cuisines are healthier, with many of the dishes using lean meat and vegetables, packed with flavour yet light on the stomach. He adds: “Imagine savouring an aromatic Vietnamese pho, indulging in the rich, coconut-infused curries of Malaysia and preparing your taste buds for the fiery thrill of Indonesian sambal.” It’s a food trip around the world, while staying at home.
5. Going that extra mile
To make guests feel special, customise a few elements. Drinks are a good starting point. At one party, a bartender from The House Party by Savar personalised drinks by writing the names of guests on fruit peels used as garnishes. These were repurposed peels that helped check wastage.
Foodlink is taking personalised cocktails a notch higher. It has a few special machines that—when permitted by guests—instantly capture their image and “caricature it” on a cocktail. Playing cards is part of the fun during Diwali and sometimes tables are customised with edible poker and roulette chips and pieces.
Mumbai-based Maitri Shah of Mai Stories specialises in table-scaping and curating menus and décor. She creates hand-embroidered napkins and monogrammed chopsticks. “The attention is in these small details,” she says. At a five-course, sit-down dinner for six people on rakhi this year, every course had different dinnerware and crockery, including hand-painted ceramic plates. The menu card was personalised with design elements made with traditional sacred thread and monogrammed organza napkins and other customised “take home” gifts on the table. For the festive season, Shah will use 3D projection mapping technology for an immersive culinary experience. At a recent intimate dinner for two, Shah curated a couple’s travel photos via a 3D experience wherein the dining table came alive with animated art, transforming into lush green landscapes of Swiss mountains, beaches and forests. “It’s storytelling, after all,” she says.
Abhilasha Ojha is a Delhi-based art and culture writer.