The drinks: Begin with an aperitif because cocktails start everything off right. I love the ceremony of making them and, for much of my adult life, my bar cart has been a source of inspiration, both in my cooking and as a start to a special meal. Cater to the desires of your guest and choose something that will make them feel seen. Can you remember the last cocktail they ordered at a bar? Recreate it and they’ll be forever thankful.
The food: You want to be able to focus on the person that you’re cooking for so if you’re anxious about being in the kitchen, keep it simple. Find your failsafe recipe, remember that buying things from the shops and adding a little extra touch is totally fine. The goal is to keep the food abundant and with sides like good bread, butter and a stunning dessert to finish you can’t go wrong.
I like tall candles in candlesticks, so the light is at face height on the table, bathing you both in that quintessentially romantic glow
The linen: A simple one that you found somewhere special or lovingly borrowed from your parent’s or grandparent’s collection. All being well it will look like a disaster when the dinner is done, but that’s the sign of a good meal. Napkins are essential and I find lots of pure linen ones on eBay or in charity shops in boxes that are often unopened!
The flowers: I’m not fussy about flowers – I like supermarket roses, carnations, tulips and big bunches of green eucalyptus. I think so much of their beauty can be enhanced by how you display them, so I keep my old tiny Campari soda bottles for stunning single roses or group bunches of flowers together by shade to create big bursts of colour.
The candle: There’s something instantly calming about candlelight. I like tall candles in candlesticks, so the light is at face height on the table, bathing you both in that quintessentially romantic glow: tall, plain white candles are effortlessly elegant and cost the least. I source vintage glass candle holders from flea markets when I travel and I love Matilda Goad’s new brass candle stick holder collection.
The plates and platters: I have risked excess baggage charges on so many trips because I simply can’t walk past a plate or platter that I love and not bring it home. From the antique-metal salad dish I found at a flea market in Athens to the plate from the hotel in Paris, where we spent a weekend eating strawberries. Nothing matches in my kitchen or at my table, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. Find pieces that you love, and you won’t ever wish for a matching set of anything.
The music: find an album, a playlist, or even a really good radio station to soundtrack your meal. Start the music as you’re cooking to really set the scene and make the moment feel memorable.
Bre Graham is an Australian food writer and editor based in London. Bre regularly hosts podcasts, panels and supper clubs and she writes the hit weekly newsletter “Dishes to Delight” on the joy of cooking and love. Her work has been published in Refinery 29, The Guardian, Riposte, Harper’s Bazaar, Timeout, NY Mag, and many more. She is currently the Lifestyle Editor at Courier Media.
Bre's debut cookbook, Table for Two: Recipes for the Ones You Love, will be available to purchase in hardcover from 19th January, 2023.