The Utterly Inessential Shopping List: How to throw a smashing last-minute dinner party

What do you do when you've forgotten that you invited the entire bridge club round until T-24 hours? Alexandra Fraser offers her top tips on how to throw a killer dinner party with minimal forward-planning involved.

It’s Thursday afternoon, you’re at work, you’re looking forward to a movie tomorrow night to slowly ease you into a do-nothing weekend. You’re just about to mentally choose Love Actually over Dangerous Liasons (it’s November, after all) when that dreaded text pops up on your phone:

So looking forward to tomorrow night! What can we bring? x

You’d forgotten. Your partner had forgotten. The dog had forgotten. And now you’re faced with the horrendous truth that you’re about to play host to six of your best friends (plus the couple you only invited because Sarah told you to) tomorrow night, with no preparation, no plan and no pudding.

So. What do you do?

Initially? Panic. It is, after all, entirely your own fault. But after that initial oh-dear-lord-why moment, have a read through this list and you’ll discover that, in the immortal words of Sonny & Cher, I got you babe.

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The Wine

Bolney Bubbly

Go British. It’s a great conversation starter and it’s different enough from the usual French and Italian fare to be special.

Bolney’s range of whites is small but selective; begin with a bottle of their Bubbly, then move onto the Estate Bacchus or their Kew White. If you’re in the mood for red, you can’t go wrong with Berry Bros. & Rudd Good Ordinary Claret.

Estate Bacchus from the Bolney Wine Estate, £17.99 a bottle, check your local stockist at 

Bolney Bubbly, £23.99 a bottle, check your local stockist at 

2017 Berry Bros. & Rudd Good Ordinary Claret, £11.95 a bottle,

The starter

Aromatic Duck Gyoza visual

This may be a bit of a cheat, but it’s a delicious one. Popular Asian-inspired restaurant chain itsu is now in a freezer near you and these gyozas are particularly enticing, being low calorie, low in fat and ready in four minutes. Great for a warm at-work-snack, they’ll also function perfectly as a quick-to-make starter while you focus on the main course. Just throw away the packet and no one will know.

PSA: itsu also does frozen boa buns.

itsu aromatic duck gyoza, pack of 12, in the frozen aisles of Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrison’s and Wholefoods from £3.50

The Main

This is where you’re going to want to focus your energy. Luckily, earlier this year The Grand York hotel’s beautiful cookery school passed on a great recipe for a delicious thai green curry.

The best part? You can make the paste the night before (or even a few weeks before and freeze it) so all you’ll have to worry about on the night is cooking your protein and rice. The recipe calls for a multitude of wonderful seafoods, but it works excellently with chicken too if you don’t have time to run to your local fish monger.

Trust me, if I can make it, you can make it. Keep breathing, you’re doing great.

Click here for The Grand York Cookery School’s Thai Green Curry recipe; scroll to the bottom of the piece.

Bonus tip: The rice scoop

It’s infinitely easy to make the wrong quantity of rice and lament over tiny portions or overflowing Tupperware. Make your life just a little bit easier with a gorgeous rice scoop to get the quantity right every time.

This is Utterly Inessential, after all, and we make no promises to be reasonable in our recommendations.

Eco Teak Rice Scoop from Sophie Conran, £16 from

The dessert

This one might be a bit harder to pull off last-minute, but instead of slaving over brownies which you’ll likely over-bake in the heat of the evening, opt for a classy cheese plate with some chocolate treats.

The Cheese Geek are experts in pretension-free cheeses. You can even build up your own taste profile on their handy app if you love this one-off box enough to order a cheese subscription (which I highly recommend you do, just in time for Christmas). The Sonny & Cher box is perfect for the end of a dinner party. Just pick up some grapes when you grab your gyoza and you’ll be set.

The Cheese Geek seasonal cheese boxes are available on or via The Cheese Geek App. The Sonny & Cher is priced at £50.

The final touch is always something sweet. Lily O’Brien’s Desserts Collection of 48 delicious chocolates will be demolished by 10 people in a matter of minutes – I’ve seen it happen I can promise you, it’s as entertaining as it is terrifying.

Make sure you hold back some mini crème brulee’s before you arrange them on a little plate for the rest of the party.

The Desserts Collection, £30, available at

That’s it! You’re done! No go forth and entertain.