If your idea of party catering is decanting bags of crisps into the nearest available bowl, we applaud you. But if you want to try something with a little more wow-factor for your next gathering, you need to get involved in the grazing platter trend.
Far from fiddly, tiny canapes that take hours to prepare, a platter is all about abundance and ease, overflowing with goods that can be nibbled on throughout a celebration, no cutlery required.
And because everything is an Instagram opportunity these days, they’re also usually dressed to impressed with colourful fruit, vegetables and sprigs of foliage (indeed, the #grazingplatter hashtag has more than 50k posts and counting).
That’s why to give you a headstart for your festive events, we’ve asked Rose Lloyd Owen, founder of Peardrop London – and creator of its delicious Moveable Feasts, which feature platters a-plenty – how to make the most impressive displays for any occasion.
‘The trend for grazing stations originally started in Australia and has slowly crept over here,’ says Rose. ‘I think people have been looking for something a little different to do at their party and grazing stations have the added bonus of being beautiful and a talking point. It’s also motivated social media – we’re always being asked for Instagrammable food.’
The easiest option is, of course, to order a platter in, but if you fancy giving creating your own a go, here’s your ultimate DIY grazing platter guide. Put yours out when the guests arrive and watch the compliments roll in.
Colour it in
‘Break up blocks of colours with other colours – for example, lemon wedges on a plate of smoked salmon or lambs lettuce underneath pork pies,’ Rose advises. ‘Bundle charcuterie in segments of colours separate meat and cheese with sprigs of herbs. If you want to use bright edible flowers, larger ones like nasturtiums work best. Fruit is also a brilliant way to add pops of colour – try cutting three types of melon wedges (cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon) and laying them in lines together. Place things down in segments and strips to create some order and making the dish look beautiful.’
‘I’d definitely suggest altering the heights of food, as different levels are important for creating visual impact, as well as simply making things easier to reach,’ she adds. ‘You can turn anything into a riser – old wine boxes, baskets or small crates turned upside down for a more rustic look, or perspex, stone or gold containers for a more modern look. A cake stand is also a good prop and you’ve always got one stored in the cupboard.’
Take a dip
Everyone loves a pot of something delicious for dunking, but how do you make it work on a platter? ‘It’s nice to make little individual crudité pots with dips at the bottom for people to take and walk around with,’ says Rose. ‘Use small tumblers or even large shot glasses. I like to put dips in different sized pretty bowls and I’d always think about the garnish. Try roasting (tinned) chickpeas in smoked paprika, honey and chilli to spruce up shop-bought hummus or crumble feta and drizzle extra virgin olive oil on top of pea and mint dip.’
And the no-nos?
‘Some foods don’t like to sit around, especially if it’s hot,’ Rose admits. ‘Obviously you need to be careful of fish and chicken liver pate spread on toast goes brown after a while, and kimchi I would say is a no no because of the smell!’
Get on board
When it comes to serving everything up, chopping boards and trays are good but ‘nothing with a pattern,’ according to Rose. ‘I often find lovely things in West Elm and H&M home is good value. It’s also possible to lay food straight out onto your table, on top of food safe paper.’
To plate or not to plate? ‘It’s always a tricky one but it all depends on the vibe of your party,’ Rose explains. ‘Side plates and cheese knives are necessary for a smarter event – especially where there are more of the older generation present. Napkins are essential at all times too, but if it’s a bit of a Christmas knees up, personally I like to just eat a sausage or piece of Jamon in my fingers! You can buy these cool bamboo boats and cones online, rather than plates. Otherwise, build little salads in glasses stacked on top of each other – mozzarella, rocket & griddled peach / plum, depending on the season, for example.’
For the ‘gram
‘Ultimately, abundance is key,’ Rose concludes. ‘Fill every centimetre of your table or platter with something, leave no gaps and if it’s a smaller gathering, make the food area smaller and build up foliage, flowers, candles, plates, bread, napkins around the edges. Fruit (e.g. grapes or a pineapple) and bread are good space fillers. For me, vases of flowers are always a must-have too.
‘Flowers and foliage don’t need to be edible if they’re not in contact with the food. Eucalyptus works well and I love ferns too. Using bunches of carrots or radishes with their tops as decor always looks fun too. Other affordable options are plants, herbs in pots or foliage that you’ve grabbed from outside scattered around the table.
‘Another tip is to try and put your grazing table in the middle of the room, instead of against a wall, so people can help themselves from all sides. Make sure you have at least one person helping to keep it tidy!’