If the phrase “house parties rule” has you bobbing your head along in enthusiastic agreement, here’s one way to take your next bash – be it a birthday dinner, potluck lunch or girls’ night in – from standard to sophisticated: go the catering route and serve (or bring) mini-everything.
At a recent get-together of 10 people ('in line with current guidelines about gatherings), this writer included, the hosts brought out tray upon tray of bite-sized delights, serving everything from chicken and vegetable quesadillas to shrimp tacos and mushroom vol-au-vent. Even the goat’s cheese salad was arranged in mini mason jars, packed to the brim with the goodness of beetroot, spinach, raspberries and a balsamic dressing.
I snuck a peek at the demure packaging. Parlour Boutique, it read. A quick Google search revealed that the lounge-style restaurant at One Central has a catering menu that offers seven other salads (from burrata and Caesar’s to lentil tabbouleh and quinoa nicoise), plus cutesy individual jars of truffle mac and cheese, and shepherd’s pie, ranging in price from Dh8 to Dh14 a pop. I was sold.
A conversation with Sam Johnstone, head chef at Parlour Boutique, had me planning the menu for my next do. “A pizza party is OK now and then, but a catering menu, with canapes and the like, offers a bit more finesse,” Johnstone says. “It makes it feel like you’re enjoying the food served in a world-class restaurant by trained chefs, but from the safety of your home.
“It also shows guests that you’ve put your best foot forward. And let’s face it, few of us would be able to make dozens upon dozens of canapes in a home kitchen; it’s just too much effort.”
The decision to go small was deliberate, too, she says. “A massive salad bowl can be messy to serve and boring to eat; six-spoon salads are easy and tasty. People are increasingly hosting more health-conscious guests these days, the kind who want not just fried food and crispy things, but fresh items.”
Another advantage of bite-sized finger foods is the variety you can offer your guests. The infused jars aside, Parlour Boutique's savoury menu also includes wraps cut pinwheel-style and sliders, plus items such as mini chicken Parmigiana and quail egg shakshuka choux. Most popular among patrons, says the chef, are the avocado toast, fried Brie bites with truffle honey and beef skewers.
“My next focus is to enhance our seafood offerings,” says Johnstone, who blends her knowledge of French and Latino cooking styles, as well as offering limited-time dishes linked to occasions such as Eid, World Chocolate Day and Bastille Day.
The quality of the produce is another major focus for the chef – and one of the reasons the fare at my friend’s bash stood out. “People will always remember the food at a party, when it’s good and especially when it’s terrible,” she says. Parlour Boutique offers a combination of locally grown vegetables, sourced from Gulf Fruits, and imported speciality items such as burrata cheese, truffle and tartufata.
While the brand has been around for some years now and has expanded into its own bakery, coffee shop and fine-dining French restaurant at the Dubai World Trade Centre, the pandemic has also spurred many a cooking enthusiast to offer catering services, each specialising in his or her own brand of homestyle cooking.
Caterers are also a bit more flexible than your corner restaurant, in that they can swap out ingredients, adapt to dietary requirements and often deliver to more than one emirate.
A minor disadvantage is that most require a minimum order (six items for within Dubai and a delivery fee for all other emirates, in Parlour Boutique's case). However, if you have more than half a dozen guests, and want to impress every last one of them, take your cues from a catering menu.