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Have a seat: sit-down dinners are back

Is the sit-down dinner making a comeback in India? Could it be that we, who so adore groaning buffet tables with endless varieties of cuisines, are experiencing a Renaissance in intimate, seated, home-style entertaining? In Mumbai, the country’s glamour capital, it would seem so. The season has swung into overdrive; last week alone I was invited to two sit-down dinners and had one of my own.

Saying yes to a seated dinner always seems like a big commitment because, like most people, I wonder who my dining partners might be — Dimwit Dev or Dashing Deepak? And I never ask a host who else they’ve invited as I find the question impertinent and presumptuous.

So how wonderfully refreshing it was to find myself at Erika and Peter Born’s elegant home, with its array of contemporary Vietnamese art, amongst an eclectic group of guests — artists, editors, entrepreneurs, and assorted beau monde types. Erika, whom I had met at a Sotheby’s art appreciation course a few years ago, is an art collector and interior designer. A quick look around her home told me she and her husband have great taste. Their table was so inviting, decorated with silver and crystal glasses, and old European china. I couldn’t wait to sit down and partake of the food and company.

The gathering was in honour of my friend Zain Masud, and Harry Smith, Chairman of Gurr Johns. “Gurr, who?” was my first thought, but then I asked around and learned it was a 100-year-old art advisory and appraisal company that operated beneath the radar, very much in keeping with its very rich, but discrete, clients. I met Zain during my maiden trip to Art Dubai, a long time ago, when she handled VIP relations for the fair. Her turban had caught my attention then, and I told her with a twinge of disappointment that I wish she had worn one that evening. As we sat down to dine, I found myself seated next to Harry, who proceeded to tell me he was originally from Gibraltar, and yes, it really was just a big rock with hardly any beach. Eventually the talk turned to — what else — Salvator Mundi, the recently sold $450 million Leonardo da Vinci painting. Who was the buyer? No one knew but we guessed it must be a wealthy Chinese since so many wealthy Arabs were locked away at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh.

Not one to be faint-hearted, I undertook my own sit-down over the weekend. Chef Nikki, of the celebrated Japanese restaurant from the exquisite Maldives resort Soneva Fushi, was visiting. He undertook what must have been an acrobatic culinary exercise — my guests’ dietary restrictions included gluten-free, dairy-free, corn-free, vinegar-free and meat free. Phew! I had thought hard about whether to do a sit-down. After all, one has to consider the guest list with care. Some people flatly refuse to attend sit downs because they find them tedious. Mr Debonair CEO begged off when I rang him a few weeks ago with the invitation. “GRS, you know I love you, but please,” he intoned into the phone. “I just can’t sit down. Call me for the next big party.” Hmmm.

Next, like many a host, I was concerned about the on-time arrival of guests — at a seated dinner, it’s doubly complicated since no one can sit till everyone arrives. In the West, this is never an issue since people are prompt. But, as we well know, between Indian Standard Time and our traffic woes, timely arrivals can be a challenge. And those are just the external constraints. Designing seating charts that don’t ruffle feathers requires serious social gymnastics. Still, I managed. The table looked good, the food was quintessential Soneva — healthy and light — and my guests laughed a lot. And the ultimate compliment? No one wanted to leave. So I used my old faithful at-home party trick, simply retired to bed and let them carry on laughing.

This fortnightly column tracks the indulgent pursuits of the one-percenters.

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 3:03:04 AM |

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