When my parents moved into my childhood home, I was two years old and my father was a suave new doctor in town. To get the word out to the other doctors in town that he had arrived and was available for referrals, he and my mom held a housewarming party. Guests parked at the top of our rather precipitous driveway and my dad hired a driver to drive them down to the house. There were professional barmen, caterers, and a kind of maitre d’ who walked around in a dinner jacket and white gloves lighting ladies’ cigarettes for them with a gold lighter. My mom wore a dress (that I still own) which buttoned all the way down the front but had a tantalising gap between the two halves of the dress in the cleavage area – not enough to reveal anything other than the fact that the wearer was not wearing a bra…! Of course, I was too young to remember all this, but the story was told and retold so many times that it felt as though I was there. As you can imagine, the bar for what I expected of housewarmings was set pretty high.
But expectations this high can usually only lead to disappointment, and so it was during my student years and my twenties when housewarmings usually meant a braai (BBQ) in a sparsely furnished rented flat, a couple of sad bowls of crisps, and too much cheap booze. But a couple of weeks ago my faith in housewarmings was restored when we were invited to our friends’ housewarming on the deck of their new apartment with a glorious view over the Thames Barrier and Canary Wharf in the distance. The bubbly was plentiful (and Nick got to perform sabrage a few times!), the sun was shining, the views were glamorous and the company was good. But more importantly, our hosts had made the brilliant decision to use my talented friend Jackie Lee to do their catering. So while the guests were mingling, there appeared from the kitchen a regular stream of dishes to entice us. Not finicky little nibbly things on toothpicks mind you, but real, satisfying dishes to keep the guests happy all afternoon. Sadly, I arrived a little late (having kittens in the home is hard work, you know!) so I missed the freshly shucked oysters and sushi – but here is the rest of what we had:
Prawn kebabs with peppers & summer squash (or halloumi cheese kebabs for vegetarians) – fat prawns, smokiness from the BBQ and freshness from a squeeze of lemon before serving. Delicious!
Sticky BBQ chicken wings – sticky, juicy, awesome
Wild rice salad with seedless grapes, cranberries and orange segments – sweet and nutty; chewy and juicy; my runaway favourite of the afternoon! Jackie has also very kindly posted the recipe on her blog and I can’t wait to make it.
Potato, bacon & spring onion salad made with Purple Majesty potatoes - my first experience of these gloriously colourful potatoes and their nutty flavour, beautifully complemented by salty bacon bits and the fresh spring onions
Zucchini, pea and chilli salad with mint – like summer in a bowl
BBQ quail marinated in pomegranate molasses, among other things! – loved the sweetness of the marinade contrasting with the gamey meat
Quinoa salad with pistachios and pomegranate arils – a fantastic, jewelled accompaniment to the quails, wonderfully nutty.
Whole mackerel in chermoula on the BBQ – another runaway favourite: the smoky spiciness of the chermoula was a gorgeous foil for the rich, moist fish
The World’s Best Mixed Berry Pavlova – decadent, positively Baroque presentation and a meringue that gave just enough of a nod to saltiness and chewiness. OMG.
Jackie’s famous chocolate brownies – decadent, like fudge with a crust
Chiffon cheesecake with fresh berries – light, fresh and summery
And in case you are wondering who the superstars in the kitchen were, I present to you the gorgeous Jackie and Jenni (aka Team Feeder!). If you have any catering requirements coming up and you want to move beyond crisps and dip, I can’t recommend them highly enough – do get in touch.
And apart from all the bubbly that we consumed at the housewarming, we also drank something even more interesting: a wine made by our hosts entirely from grapes grown on their allotment, in E16! They’re not sure what the grape variety is as they were given the vine by another allotment holder, but it is clearly a cool climate white. They harvested, crushed and vinified their grapes and eventually bottled it under their own label for personal use – and I have to say it was pretty impressive! Understandably (given last year’s “summer”) the wine does not have much ripe fruit but it is most certainly a technically competent dry white wine, made with minimal chemical intervention, and it would not have been out of place at the Raw Wine Fair. I can imagine that chilled with some simple grilled fish it would go down a treat – and think how smug you would feel about the lack of food miles