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Australia’s seasoned hosts on how to throw an unforgettable party

Step one: generously stack the bar cart.
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What’s the secret to celebration success? Champagne doesn’t hurt. But have you considered char siu buns with a side of performance art, or Paloma punch to start and a party bus to finish? Seasoned hosts spill the bubbly on how to make a soirée soar.

Janice Petersen – News Presenter, SBS Australia

You should be knocked off your feet by the buzz of a party and want to dive right in as soon as you arrive. Transform a space with flowers, lighting and candles – it can help to make a venue, and your guests, feel flat-out fancy. Good food that’s easy to eat with one hand is essential. And don’t skimp on the bubbles. The constant pop of Champagne screams full-throttle fun.

Nikki Friedli – Maître d’ and co-owner, Africola

I’m a big fan of a Paloma on arrival. It’s refreshing, sneakily strong and easy to serve as a punch. If your strength in the kitchen is a Bunnings snag, roll with it. Nobody expects you to be Marco Pierre White (unless you are Marco Pierre White). Candles and lamps are your friends, and under no circumstances should you play anything that says “Smooth Background Music” in the title; your guests will die of boredom. When an extra shows up unexpectedly, don’t panic. Smile and knock back a massive gin. And the golden rule? Don’t invite anyone you don’t like. It’s your house.

Paloma cocktail

Stuart Gregor- Co-founder, Four Pillars Distillery

Never let a person over the age of 18 arrive at your house and not have a drink in their hand within two minutes. Standing around wondering what to do with your hands should never happen. I like to have jugs of gin cocktails to make it easy. Last summer it was Bloody Shiraz gin, Campari, lemon tonic, lots of ice, soda and lime. Pour away and the party’s already started! Open multiple bottles of the same wine so you’re not going up and down to the cellar every 10 minutes. Uninvited guests add a certain frisson to the evening, so welcome them with open arms.

Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales – Designers, Romance Was Born

Flowers are often the first element you notice and can set the tone for the type of party you’re in for. It’s super cute when people get to take them home at the end of the night, too. We’re flower mad – we’ve named entire collections after flowers (Electro Orchid, anyone?). Beyond that, you need plenty of Champagne (a tower, please), oysters, a mirror ball and a DJ who willingly takes requests.

Oysters with two sauces

Lisa Havilah – Director, Carriageworks

The best party should take effort but appear casual. Details don’t need to be too detailed. We once had an exhibition launch at Carriageworks and the caterer, John Wilson, brought focaccia still in its baking tray, a huge wooden pallet of ricotta, and truffle to grate over the top. People always remember one simple thing done perfectly. And this was totally no-fuss but still felt extra special.

Anthea Loucas Bosha – CEO, Food and Wine Victoria

A great party is all about a relaxed host. And that means laying out a DIY spread so guests can help themselves to food as they please, leaving you free to flit around. A glazed ham with lots of soft white bread rolls, an Italian-style coleslaw, a wheel of cheese and loads of different condiments are my go-tos. And Negronis, always Negronis.

Australian Negroni

Andrew McConnell – Melbourne restaurateur and chef

If you’re hosting at home, set the table somewhere different from where you usually eat, perhaps on the porch or in the garden if you can. There’s something really special about eating outside. When people offer to help, let them; it’s more fun cooking with friends. I always go for big, generous and often familiar flavours, something I can execute easily so I’m not in the kitchen with tweezers trying to plate up food and missing all the fun. And always have a pile of vinyl ready to go for when dinner turns to dancing.

Tony Tan – Chef and Author

The food must be light, simple, sexy and have oomph. A fish crudo with ginger-and-lemongrass mayo and Yarra Valley Caviar salmon roe is great. Or Xinjiang-style Uyghur lamb skewers with cumin, chilli, lemon and an easy rice pilaf. Then there’s char siu: cook it over a charcoal burner and serve it with pickles and fluffy mantou buns. With food as light as this, everyone will think you’re a rock star. And it’s fun and easy to make, so you’ll have time to party.

White fish crudo with avocado, herbs and cucumber-lime dressing

Banjo Harris Plane – Beverage Director, Bar Liberty, The Wine Gallery and Capitano

To start, serve a pét-nat from the Adelaide Hills (easy, fresh, fun) or top Heiwa Shuzo yuzushu with an equal amount of fizzy water (a citrusy smash). Being a wine nerd, I always have a mix of fizz, white, rosé, amber and light reds open on a table for people to help themselves to. If the sun is shining, host your do at the park, in a beer garden or at the beach. Ask people to bring easy stuff: a loaf of bread, some charcuterie, a hunk of cheese. And if you don’t have the patience to work the barbecue, takeaway from Flower Drum or Supernormal is always a luxe option.

John Fink – Creative Director, The Fink Group

Cook something with flair so everyone can roll up their sleeves and get involved (paella, fresh pasta). Have a small court of witty regulars to spark things up, and somewhere in that lot invite a musician – they can’t help but belt out a few tunes. Get a crew together to back you up with the preparations, so you have a mini-party to set up, then the party-party, then a clean-up party the next day. Be open to some crazy shit going down. A few years back at one of our parties, a woman stripped off, painted her body with acrylic paint and made an impression on a primed canvas. It was all very spontaneous. She gave the painting to her husband as a birthday present.

Party paella

Christine Manfield – Chef and Author

Your party should reflect you as a person. Great glassware, fabulous cocktails and high-calibre Champagne and wine add style and glamour. So do good-looking staff who know how to deliver polished service and add a bit of theatre. As host, you need to be present for your guests to help spark the energy, not slaving away behind the scenes, so keep the food simple, fresh and full of flavour. Gorgeous ceramics, linen napkins and interesting cutlery help show food in its best light, too.

Taras Ochota – Winemaker, Ochota Barrels

Start with chilled orange-wine shots, then move on to cocktail mayhem. Whiskey Sours, Margaritas, Martinis, mezcal shots (for the ones still not picking up on the vibe), more orange-wine nips – anything plural really. The ’80s usually nails the music, but a live band can also get a crowd bouncing off the walls, ceiling and floor. As for a location, opt for something with dim lighting (Africola’s basement comes to mind). A handwritten invitation gives it another level of charm, especially when you deliver them personally. And a good host will also charter a bus to drop the guests home. Two days later.


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