Party Clinic: Sector View - A taste for adventure

A world of culinary delights awaits enterprising organisers, says Suzy Bashford.

It is becoming ever more difficult to impress today's discerning partygoer, but food remains one of the most effective ways to raise eyebrows.

In recent years we have seen the growth of specialist cookery styles, with an increasing number of caterers offering the likes of Indian, Chinese, Japanese, African, Caribbean and vegetarian.

Events manager at Indian restaurant Tamarind, Victoria Jarvie, believes some adventurous organisers are beginning to experiment because they are sick of "the same old food and canapes".

Yet despite the plethora of exotic possibilities, event organisers often opt for a more conservative option and they are missing a trick, says the European Catering Association administrator Vic Lawes.

"Event organisers do not realise the breadth of the offer," he says.

Lawes attributes the growing popularity of specialist cooking styles largely to ethnic groups favouring their own food at parties, rather than event organisers trying out something new. He also lists cost, cultural sensitivities and lack of food supplies as additional reasons why certain catering styles have not been more widely adopted.

Another major stumbling block event organisers face is often misconceptions, adds Lawes. For example, when you think of Indian food, what do you picture?

Do you think of a heavy, greasy chicken tikka masala laiden with bundles of rice? If you do, you are not alone, but you're also not up to date with the kind of sophisticated Indian food on offer.

These outmoded views of food will change as more people experience authentic styles first-hand. For example, vegetarian food is now enjoyed by even the most red-blooded of carnivores, with trendy specialist restaurants cropping up throughout city centres.

The moral of the story for event organisers is this: take the plunge before your rivals and you will be pleasantly surprised. And so will your guests.

Daily Bread Sandwiches may not sound particularly glamorous for a corporate event, but these are something entirely different. They are eaten by the Queen, no less, and can often be found gracing the buffet at Wimbledon, Henley Regatta and Goodwood.

Daily Bread managing director Tim Roupell employs 170 people, making more than 40,000 sandwiches each day. Roupell claims his food is being sourced for large events because of Daily Bread's commitment to "quality, innovation and logistics management". Last year, the company catered for Innocent drinks' Fruitstock summer music festival in Regent's Park.

Popular choices include goats' cheese with asparagus and pine nuts on tomato bread and lamb shawarma with chargrilled peppers in a wrap. A healthy eating range has also been added recently.

Minimum order size is 50 sandwiches and the minimum notice period is 1.30pm prior to day of delivery. Prices range from 75p to £1.45 per sandwich.

Contact: Tim Roupell (020) 7498 0494

Imperial China

Imperial China general manager Simon Tang claims it is not uncommon for film stars and politicians to frequent his restaurant, which counts Mayor Ken Livingstone and the Prime Minister of China among its customers.

Corporate events seemed a natural extension and Imperial China can be hired for outside catering, but also offers events on-site, adding rooms with plasma screens and karaoke. The restaurant supplied food for the launch parties of West End show One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and film The House of Flying Daggers.

Its cooking style is Cantonese, renowned for fresh delicate flavours.

However, Tang says when event organisers choose a menu they tend to pick only dishes they know. "They can be unadventurous," he says. "We try to introduce people to new, unusual dishes, but this often puts them off and they tend to go for the usual crispy aromatic duck and sweet and sour chicken." Tang names a couple of his personal favourites as lobster with egg white, and spicy Taiwanese chicken. Typical prices range from £30 - £40 per person.

Contact Christine Wan (020) 7831 6688

Blistering Barbecues

Blistering Barbecues can count cookery goddess Nigella Lawson as a fan, and has been hired by a string of trendy clients for corporate parties.

These have included MTV, Talkback Productions and the Ministry of Sound.

Needless to say, it is not bog standard burgers in a bun that have impressed these clients.

The company describes its offer as "heroic all-weather barbecues". It will set up wood-fired barbecues for clients at any site and cook from a themed "shack", decorated according to the chosen menu. This spans all manner of international cuisine such as Oriental, Middle Eastern and South American, with trademark dishes being its red snapper, whole tuna loin and legendary spit roasts.

"A lot of companies might say they do corporate BBQs but in fact they are just turning on the gas," explains Blistering Barbecues director Tim Reeves. "That is not what we are about. We're about the flavour, the taste, the showmanship. It is not your typical barbecue." Book in advance for optimum service, but requests can be turned around up to a week in advance. The average cost of a canape, buffet and pudding menu is around £55 per person, but this can drop to £15 per person for larger groups choosing a no-frills menu. Group sizes from 50 to 4,000 can be catered for.

Contact Tim Reeves (020) 7720 7678


Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Tamarind, in Mayfair, launched its outside catering division in May 2004 and since then has hosted parties for Prince Charles, London Fashion Week and Christie's. The menu centres around native Tandoor ovens and food is prepared in the traditional north west Indian style.

Tamarind's biggest challenge is overcoming preconceived ideas about Indian food. "Often event organisers don't think the food suits summertime, for example," says events manager Victoria Jarvie, "but the large majority of it is fruit- and salad-based and very light, so can be wonderful in summer. Our food is not Indian food as most people know it." The restaurant prides itself on a reputation for light, delicate spicing.

A typical dish is the Tamarind salad, which is made of apples, guavas and kumquats in a mango, ginger and pine-nut dressing.

For corporate parties, the team will also offer advice on how to theme events in keeping with the Indian style, although Jarvie stresses that "we will assist and guide but ultimately stick to what we are best at - the food".

Advanced booking is preferred but events can be turned around at short notice. Typical prices for dinner vary between £30 and £60 per person and between £30 and £40 for a buffet.

Contact: Victoria Jarvie (020) 7589 2166

Italian Secrets

Anna Ventura is a traditional Italian with a passion for food and family.

She combines the two in her Italian catering business, which she runs with her daughter Letizia. She pledges to add this Italian flavour to a creative event, not only in terms of the food but also the warm, personal service that people always appreciate.

When Ventura is given a brief she will sit down with the client and discuss what they want to achieve with themes and menu variations. In addition, Italian Secrets can take away some of the pressure for organisers as they will also source entertainment, such as magicians and musicians.

The company catered for 500 guests at the UK launch of handbag label Froggy in December, and in the same month supplied canapes for a Ferragamo wine launch.

Canapes, such as cucumber shells with gorgonzola mousse topped with smoked crispy pancetta, tend to be the most popular at corporate events. A popular buffet dish for guests is spezzatino of venison with chestnuts and orange.

Another service that Ventura believes sets the company apart from competitors is its corporate cookery courses, and clients include Procter & Gamble, Goldman Sachs and American Express. Prices at Italian Secrets vary according to the menu, but start from approximately £30 per person.

Contact Anna Venturi 07714 759703.

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