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Retro Dinner Party Revival


I have recently given interviews about the changes in British diets and how what we enjoy for dinner has changed over the decades, it made me think back to a retro dinner party I recreated in 2016, from retro cookbooks. It was a feast for the eyes, but is reflective of how our culinary ideas have changed.

Food had been all about frugality and functionality for the best part of the 1940’s and 1950’s and whilst the food had been wholesome by the 60’s people were ready for a change. Bright, brash and decadent was the new trend, with different foods and cooking habits being introduced into the kitchen.

As people started to take the first package holidays, inspiration was brought home in the form of exotic dishes such as Coq au Vin and Duck a l’ Orange. Whilst fish and chips remained the nation’s favourite takeaway, fancy new dishes such as chicken Kiev and sweet and sour were being produced by housewives all over Britain. At the same time the arrival of Indian and Chinese restaurants heralded the beginning of the foreign takeaway tradition. Tastes were changing and food was about to become about feeding the eyes before the stomach.

As the consumption of meat and sugar reached record levels and a much greater variety of foods became available in the shops, the 1960’s housewife really did become the hostess with the mostess. The growth of air travel meant fruit and vegetables could be flown in from exotic countries enabling the availability of fresh produce all year round, whilst the appearance of fancy fare such as avocados began to be seen in the shops.

As acclaimed television cook Fanny Craddock demonstrated how to cook for a dinner party whilst wearing a strapless evening dress, dramatic make-up and cocktail jewellery, it was clear that fine and fancy food was in vogue. It was out with bread and cheese for supper and in with the wine and cheese party.

By the end of the decade, the popular TV chef Graham Kerr, known as the Galloping Gourmet, was jet-setting around the world and providing viewers with recipes for far-flung dishes such as Lamb Apollo and Jambalaya. The nation was captivated by his culinary shenanigans and colourful cooking. Mealtimes were changing and grapefruits stuffed with crab were on the menu and salads were getting saucy.

By the 70s the British palette for all things foreign was insatiable and undeniably this was the decade that brought the dinner party to the masses. Fondue, foreign cuisine and fiasco’s of wine were the height of fashion as hosts entertaining at home were keen to wow their guests with exotic fruit, sophisticated recipes, fancy garnishes and colourful culinary combinations.

It wasn’t all style over substance, whilst presentation and a taste for the exotic were key to putting together a 1970’s dinner party menu; many of the dishes provide interesting ingredient combinations that work, whilst other dishes are still firm favourites today.

On the Menu


Dyed boiled eggs halved and seasoned with paprika served on a bed of crisp lettuce leaves.


Creamed Salad Ring – A tin of tomato soup is set with gelatine in a ring mould before being filled with a salad that is heavy on fruit and adorned with either cheese or prawns


Banana Split Salad – a banana is filled generously with cottage cheese before being topped with strawberries and chopped nuts


Lamb in Mint Jelly with Minted potatoes and pea salad

Cooked chunks of lamb are set in a mint jelly and served with vinaigrette dressed peas and minted potatoes.


Asparagus Pancakes

Asparagus spears are wrapped in savoury pancakes before being topped with a rich cheese sauce


Ice Cream Gateau

A sponge caked is soaked in cherry liqueur, before being filled with ice-cream and decorated with fruit to form a basket effect.

Coupe Jacques

An exotic sounding and looking sundae, with lashings of melba sauce, plenty of bright fruit, lots of cocktail cherries and generous scoops of ice-cream all topped with cream and a cherry.

Le Café (Coffee)

Served with lashings of cream and home-made French Truffles

With France being the most popular destination for the British tourist in the 70’s the habit of drinking coffee and eating rich dark chocolates was seen as the height of sophistication.


Popular white wines included Leibfraumilch with brands such as Black Tower being fashionable, as well as the iconic Babycham or Pink Lady, although the dinner party favourite was Lambrusco with its sweet fizz and easy drinking style.

Plainly branded French table wine and the Italian Fiasco of Chianti led the way in the reds whereas Mateus rosé was considered trendy.

Cinzano and lemonade or a Martini cocktail were sophisticated pre- dinner drinks or for a tipple in the bar the ladies couldn’t resist a Snowball and lemonade or a Cherry B wine.

Whether you fancy the dishes on this retro dinner menu or not, it has to be said that the 60’s and 70’s breathed colour and life into British dining and started the trend of a more relaxed style of entertaining. With an emphasis on wowing guests and dishes that put an artist’s palette to shame there is no better time for a retro dinner party revival.

Originally Published on Serenity Kitchen 8th November 2016