The art of hosting: how to throw the perfect (small) Christmas party with Clos19

Hannah Lemon

18 December 2020

'Tis the season for home-shaken cocktails, candlelit dinners and flamboyant decorations. As the host, however, it can feel overwhelming. Created in partnership with Clos19, consult our expert's guide to throwing an excellent party, from what to serve to curating that all-important playlist

18 December 2020 | Hannah Lemon

In partnership with: Clos19

You’ve chosen your three households for Christmas, and the family are finally reuniting after months of lockdown and Zoom calls. But have you thought about what you’ll be serving? How will you be dishing up festive feels? Just because you’re having a small gathering this year, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make it special. We’ve consulted the experts to make sure you have everything under control. Dot those Is, cross those Ts and pour yourself a drink.

1. Raise a toast: the arrival cocktail

Cocktails can be a real faff when you’re trying to enjoy the evening. Spending time shaking, chopping and mixing the perfect pour can be far too time-consuming. The best way forward? Pre-batched cocktails. You can prepare them the morning of the event, so that when your family arrive, there’s no stress.

Try mixing up some punch. It’s the perfect hassle-free drink to make at home and it can be made in large batches so you don’t need to keep topping it up. Punch translates to ‘five’ in Sanskrit, as the drink was originally made with five ingredients: alcohol, sugar, lemon, water and tea or spices. The alcohol used in a punch can be virtually anything: rum, cognac, vodka, still or fortified wine… the list is endless. But if you’re not sure where to start, try Clos 19’s Hennessy Berry Lemonade Punch recipe. If anyone knows how to serve up a fancy tipple it’s LVMH’s drinks emporium. The fruity notes add a delightfully festive flavour to set your party off on the right note.

2. Ding dong merrily on high: the perfect playlist

“Take time to put together the perfect playlist,” says Bruce Russell, one of London’s elite events planners. “I have the Christmas songs playing from the moment I get up.” Spend time curating a playlist on YouTube or Spotify and share it with the family before they arrive and people can start adding their own Christmas classics.

Alternatively, take it back a few years with a record player. Dust the records off in your attic and also ask the family to bring along any of their favourite old-school LPs.

Explore personalised bottles and gift sets on clos19.com

3. Table manners: setting the scene

“When setting the perfect table, look at varying shades, and introduce textures, such as fabrics, crystals and items in varying shapes and heights,” says Bruce. “It’s about creating an elegant, stunning, but equally comfortable space for your guests.” Look around your home for some inspiration, and choose candles for the table that aren’t too fragrant so they don’t distract from the food. “Go for a mix of complementing scents and use non-scented candles in abundance.”

Courtesy of Fiona Leahy Design

Bruce also recommends that you sit at every place setting so you can see each guest’s point of view. That way, you’ll know which candles need to move, or you can make the relevant adjustments to the table’s centrepiece. And don’t forget, “this year, more than ever, it’s all about family,” adds Bruce. “Take the time to create or get personalised gifts for each member of the family and have these on their place settings.”

For tablescape inspiration, consult the 'gram: we recommend Fiona Leah Design and Cellar Society.

4. Deck the halls: festive touches

Discover personalised bottles and gift sets on clos19.com

When it comes to Christmas decorations, it can really separate opinion. Tinsel on the Christmas tree: tacky or acceptable? Paper chains: just for children or a great sustainable solution? Whatever you decide, avoid clutter and remove everyday items to create the right mood. “For a personal touch, replace framed photos with images of Christmases past,” says Bruce.

Opt for dimmed lighting if you have it or — another helpful tip from Bruce — consider exchanging your bulb for a lower watt lamp and ensure it is a warm glow rather than a blueish glare. Alternatively, design a candlelit dinner to really add to the ambience.

5. Decadent dining: the main event

For something a bit different this Christmas, why not transform your festive bird with Middle Eastern spices, colours and textures. Over at Tart London, founders Jemima Jones and Lucy Carr-Ellison have swapped the turkey for goose, slowly cooked with clementine’s, fennel and bay with a spiced chestnut and barberry stuffing.

Whichever way you decide to present your roast, make sure to pair it with the right bottle. The team at Clos 19 are taking things up a notch with chicken and prunes matched with a Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir.

6. All the trimmings: pay attention to the sides

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While the turkey gets all the limelight, it’s also vital to get the array of mouth-watering accompaniments just right. “Prepare as much as possible the night before and adopt a less-is-more mentality,” suggests ex-Chiltern Firehouse head chef Patrick Powell, now head chef at Allegra. “Instead of doing five different average vegetable sides, do two really nice ones. Mine are Brussels sprouts roasted in pork fat with shaved chestnuts, and honey and rosemary-roasted parsnips.”

Meanwhile, Jack Croft hot sauce lover and co-owner and chef of Mayfair’s sustainable eatery Fallow, suggests rustling up some sriracha sprouts. “Take your sprouts and remove the dark outer green leaves. Deep fry these until crispy and then season with kombu seasoning and set aside. Take the rest of the sprouts and cut them in half. Place them into a large frying pan, cut side down, and cook on a low heat with a couple of knobs of butter. After a few minutes, toss the sprouts round and continue to cook for a few more minutes. When they are cooked, drench in sriracha and finish with a few more knobs of butter, a hint of lemon juice, freshly milled back pepper and sea salt flakes. To finish, cover with the crispy outer leaves.”

And for the potatoes? Freeze them, says Mark Birchall, chef of the two-Michelin starred restaurant Moor Hall. “For the crispiest roasties that are light and fluffy inside, the best way is actually to half prepare and freeze them. So, you would boil, steam dry, let them go cold and freeze ahead of time, then roast from frozen on the day”.

6. Bring out the bubbles: how to serve a magnum

While your party size probably doesn’t warrant lots of fireworks or celebrations of epic proportions, you can still add a sense of occasion by bringing out a magnum — or perhaps something a little larger. But first, there are some important things to remember. A big bottle contains more sediment than your average-sized champagne, so make sure to stand the bottle upright for 24 hours before serving.

To uncork anything larger than a magnum of wine (the equivalent of two standard bottles) you’ll also need to swap your corkscrew for a two-pronged wine opener. Larger bottles are stored upright and as the wine inside can’t keep the cork moist, their corks tend to be more brittle. The best technique is to slide the prongs in between the cork and the bottle and pull very slowly.

How well do you know your different sized bottles? Test the family with this list of big bottles from Clos 19.

7. Cheese please: pairing champagne

The grand finale of the meal: cheese. This year, swap the port out with some champagne. As a general rule, the stronger the cheese, the heavier the wine should be. This means that young champagnes pair well with lighter cheeses. And the aromas you might find in richer, more aged champagnes, go well with aged cheeses that are nutty and salty.

With that in mind, it’s worth putting parmesan, gouda and slightly aged goat’s cheeses on your champagne and cheese hit list. Don’t know where to start? Clos 19 has some insider recommendations: Moët & Chandon Impérial Brut with parmesan, Ruinart Blanc de Blancs with manchego, or Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label and comet.

Or why not go a step further? Stefano Vallebona, who supplies top restaurants such as Le Gavroche and Trinity with fine Italian produce, says the three best cheeses for a festive cheeseboard are toma cacao and rum (blue cow’s milk cheese aged on the rind with cacao beans and rum), truffle pecorino (sheep’s cheese with white and black truffle) and saffron gorgonzola (gorgonzola dolce with a pinch of fragrant saffron). After all, it is Christmas…

Discover the full range of Clos19 Christmas gifts at clos19.com