Turning your home kitchen into a cosy restaurant for the people you live with is a great way to use dinner as a source of much-needed entertainment. Check out our guide a classy evening at home…
Cook something special.
What kind of restaurant do you want? Consider who you’re cooking for and what kind of evening you want. Whether it’s a classic French bistro, a trendy Mexican cantina, a casual Italian trattoria or a 50s-style burger joint, this is the first step to making your evening come together in a cohesive way.
Plan your menu.
It’s definitely worth cooking something special, but if money is tight there’s no need to break the bank. Slow-cooking cuts of meat can be very affordable but have buckets of flavour, and you can find great deals on less popular cuts such as chicken thighs. Don’t forget vegetarian meals can be both cost-effective and delicious, too. In the mood for seafood? Mackerel and mussels are both cheap options, and you can use tinned crab to create luxury pasta dishes or an elegant quiche.
There’s no need to get super fancy, either — even a good-quality chicken, thoughtfully roasted, can make for an incredibly satisfying meal.
If you’re planning multiple courses, make sure at least some of it can be made ahead of time — this is supposed to be fun, not a source of stress! Even a simple starter can turn a regular night at home into something a little more fancy.
Make actual menus.
Use a computer with a printer to make menus for the table, or root out the craft kit and get creative with lettering and hand-drawn decoration.
Set the table.
Working within your theme, make an extra effort to differentiate your restaurant table from the kitchen table it is most of the time. Use a nice tablecloth and set it with multiple-course cutlery. This is the time to break out the fancy wine glasses. If you have flowers in your garden, why not pick a few for the centre of the table? Even a few daisies in a tall shot glass look pretty.
Set the mood.
Every good restaurant knows that soft music is the key to a good atmosphere. Pick or create a playlist that works for your vibe. Is this a chilled-out jazz kind of brunch, or a romantic meal in a cosy bistro? Either way, make sure the playlist is long enough for a relaxed experience, lingering over desserts, liqueurs, cheese or one last glass of red. The tunes should be loud enough to hear, but low enough that they don’t distract from conversation.
Light it up.
Soft, ambient lighting is just as important as music — this is no time for your overhead kitchen light! Candles are always great at creating atmosphere, and why not dig out some plain white or soft yellow Christmas lights? If you don’t have a fireplace, make use of the virtual fireplaces available on YouTube — they play for hours at a time, and even include the comforting sounds of a crackling fire.
Dress the part.
We fully recognise how difficult it is to get out of yoga pants these days, but they have no place in a restaurant! There’s hardly a need to bother with high heels or any of that malarkey, but making a little extra effort (read: putting on actual clothes) will make the experience feel like a proper occasion. Yes, wearing a bra counts.
Consider making a signature drink.
Coming up with the idea is part of the fun, so choose a cocktail or mocktail that works with the rest of your theme. If tacos are on the menu, margaritas are in order! If you’re more of a beer person, choose a craft beer to serve.
Invest in a nice bottle of wine.
Again, you don’t need to break the bank, but spending even 3-4 quid more than you usually would can give you a nicer wine, and choosing carefully to match your menu will make your dinner feel extra special.
Add a bread basket.
Is there anything that marks the start of a restaurant experience more than a bread basket? If you’re not on for making your own bread, buy par-baked rolls or simply warm some bread in a low oven for a few minutes before bringing to the table.
Plate it up right.
Make sure your plates look visually appealing. Here are some very simple but effective ways to up your game.
- Using warmed plates for hot dishes makes such a difference and is a simple way to make a meal more enjoyable — and more professional.
- Plate your dishes using odd numbers for more visual appeal. Add three stuffed mushrooms rather than four, for example.
- Smaller portions thoughtfully placed in the centre of a plate look more high-end.
- Using sauce intentionally can make a world of difference. Drizzle or spoon sauces on with care; a good trick is to use a squeezy bottle for greater control. For desserts, add a spoonful of sauce or purée, then use the bottom of a spoon to drag it across the plate.
- Garnishes should be edible, complement the flavour profile of your meal, and provide added appeal without distracting from the main event. Here are some simple suggestions:
- Fish or seafood: Lemon wedge
- Poultry: A sprig of fresh parsley
- Italian food: Basil leaves
- Mexican or Thai food: A sprig of coriander
- Desserts: Fresh berries, chocolate shavings or a piped swirl of whipped cream
- Before you finish a dish, check it carefully for any messy splashes or smudged fingerprints, using a damp cloth to remove any imperfections. Most restaurants do this to ensure your plate is perfect before it leaves the kitchen.
Don’t be afraid to cheat.
If you’re knackered and the thought of cooking a full three-course dinner feels like an absolute nightmare right now, feel free to cheat! Plenty of restaurants are now running amazing takeaway offerings. Why not let one of your local favourites take care of the food, while you focus on getting the drinks sorted and creating the perfect atmosphere? At the end of the day, this is all about treating yourself.
Ditch the phones.
The best way to make this a really special evening? Turn off your phones for a couple of hours, letting you really focus on the people you’re with.
Keep the good times going.
If you’re enjoying lingering over conversation after you finish eating, don’t ruin it by hopping up to do the dishes. Just make sure you’ve put away any food still on the counter, rinse your plates, pour boiling water into anything that needs to be steeped — and then walk away until the morning.