Be the hostess with the most this Christmas!

Fearful of being more frazzled than festive when having Christmas gatherings at your home this year? EMMA CONNOLLY asked some of Cork’s most experienced hosts to share their tips
Be the hostess with the most this Christmas!
Claire Nash of Nash 19.Picture: Eddie O'Hare

GET yourself ready first or you’ll be that person with the red face and hair in a pony-tail when your guests arrive; appoint a helper to answer the door’ and have lip gloss stashed around the place to retouch.

These are just some of the invaluable nuggets of advice shared by Claire Nash of Nash 19 who is renowned for her hosting skills.

It’s an obvious one, but she stresses that preparation for Christmas is essential, adding that she wrote her Christmas cards several weeks back, as otherwise they wouldn’t get done.

It’s also worth noting that when she hosted Christmas day dinner last year, she set her table five days in advance.

Other basic things that can be done in the lead up, she says, include getting the butcher to sharpen your knives the week before and having holly and foliage picked.

“You can deep condition them, something my mother taught me, by soaking them in a bath overnight and putting them in a black bag until you need them for your table; then spray them every day so they’ll survive the heat,” said Clare.

If hosting a gathering of any kind this Christmas, above all she stresses not to invite frenemies — only friends — and to relax!

Nonetheless, to ensure the evening goes well, she suggests having someone on door duty (a child / or spouse); having a pre-decided space (spare room or a rail) for coats, and an allocated spot for gifts (guests should remember to include a note, she says, so the host can send a thank-you card) so things won’t be everywhere around the house.

“Remember, you haven’t told your guests what time food is served so there’s no rush if you’re behind schedule. I usually serve two drinks before the food and if there’s more than 10 people I have place names — I picked up old silver ones in a vineyard in Chianti a while back.”

On that note, she advises to pick up these ‘extra touches’ when you see them; not when you need them.

“Stockpile things like nice stemware (always have 12 of the same glasses) and have lots of hand towels for overnight guests, and individually rolled face towels in a basket in the bathroom. Also, have someone on duty to check the toilet midway through the evening and change the towels. I also usually put an arrangement or a poinsettia in the shower tray as well to make it look prettier.”

Regarding drinks: “You’re doing no-one any favours by being heavy-handed. Have a proper measure, so two gin and tonics actually is two gin and tonics. Serve your own wine (opened in advance of guests arriving), and if people ask what to bring, suggest a candle as you won’t want to serve a mix of all sorts. Serving artisan gins is a nice idea, with a wow factor and a bit of trickery.”

However, as host it’s important to remember to drink lots of water and to have jugs of water on the table with orange slices on top, adding ice just before guests arrive.

Her kitchen tips include heating dinner plates in the oven and then wrapping them in foil if you’re low on oven space; and to serve starters on large plates as it does away with a need for bread plates.

Christmas Day dinner can be the easiest or the most difficult meal of the year, she says, depending on levels of organisation.

“Do things bit by bit; and take help from the experts as there are so many great artisan producers in the area.”

Do make an effort with the table though, she says, by using the best you have eg, linen napkins, silverware, etc, but remember, simplicity is elegance.

Other tips for Christmas Day dinner include leaving your meat to rest, covered in a warm area to improve flavour while roast potatoes, etc, are still in oven.

“But don’t overdo it and try to avoid the usual mountain of food waste — three spouts and one potato per person is plenty.”

When it comes to cheese, always serve at room temperature or it will be like ‘eating rubber’, she says. Clare serves a sliver of plum pudding with her cheese board at Christmas instead of crackers.

Above all, she says that, regardless of your skills, you shouldn’t be fazed by having guests, and that the simple solution is usually to be found in your fridge. But if you really, really insist on serving up crisps (she doesn’t approve) make sure they’re nice ones.

Valeria Ventura of Dillons.
Valeria Ventura of Dillons.

Other hosts also share their top tips...

DILLON’S in the West Cork village of Timoleague obviously know a thing or two about hosting, having been awarded a coveted Michelin Bib Gourmand earlier this year.

It’s run by partners Richard Milnes, chef, and Valeria Ventura, who capably manages front of house.

Valeria feels the most important thing to remember when hosting an event, dinner party or having friends and family round, at any time of the year including Christmas, is the time spent together.

“I think a relaxed and authentic host is key to a successful gathering and if you put your heart into it, that is all your loved ones are there for.”

Feeling comfortable in your decisions is something else she stresses.

“If you want to dress up for your family and friends, do!

“If you feel creative and inspired to get your finest china out and rustle up something beautiful for the centrepiece from what you find in the garden or a walk in the woods, do!

“Have a craving for some mellow jazz, or come across an artist you’d like to share with your friends, why not put that on?

“Most people get wrapped up in the ‘should and should not’s’ of the details, but for me it is mostly about taking your time, being prepared and keeping it simple.”

Valeria says that setting the table and letting your creative juices flow can be a near-therapeutic experience.

“I like to create decorative pieces with nature’s treasures, from things I find on beaches and in the forest — and you can’t beat a bit of candlelight especially at this time of the year.”

Her time-saving tips to allow you focus on being in the moment with guests is to prepare a cold starter and cook a one-pot dish before the guests arrive.

“There is nothing worse than having to constantly get up from the table. Terrines or tartares, coq au vin or fondue, chocolate mousse or tiramisu are great ideas at any time of the year to allow you to be able to actually enjoy your time with your guests.

“And of course, make sure you have enough wine at the ready and a bottle open when your guests arrive!”


Sharon Poulter, with partner Justin Cochrane-Townshend, of The Castle in Castletownshend
Sharon Poulter, with partner Justin Cochrane-Townshend, of The Castle in Castletownshend

The Castle in Castletownshend was honoured at the prestigious Georgina Campbell Awards earlier this year, taking the title of the country’s best B&B.

Run by Sharon Poulter, with partner Justin Cochrane-Townshend, it was described as an ‘absolute gem’.

Sharon says their guests come from as close as Clonakilty to as far away as Australia, but regardless, her greatest emphasis is on ‘The Welcome.’

“The first few moments of meeting and greeting guests is the most important, so I open the door with a big smile as if greeting an old friend.

The key is breaking the ice, making guests feel welcome after their journey and letting them relax as if they are at home.

Our West Cork Animal Welfare rescue dog Lassie is perfect at this too, she is super friendly and says hello to everyone and loves a belly rub, which is calming to anyone missing their pets.”

Christmas decorations also help create a wonderful ambience in the home and anyone having overnight guests might note Sharon hangs a wreath not only on the front door but also on bedroom doors.

“The fire burning in the hall creates the perfect at home cosy winter feel,” she said.

If you want to follow her stylish lead, their rooms feature white bedsheets, towels folded on the bed, tea and coffee facilities, a bottle of water on the side and wi-fi.

Breakfast comprises a variety of fruit, cereals, pastries or a cooked to order breakfast. When entertaining, three things are important, she says: “Drinks, music and nibbles. In advance, stock the bar well, include cold local craft beers, local gins and tonic, and mulled wine to fill the air with that wintery aroma. The music should be uplifting, not too loud, and a long enough playlist so once on you don’t have to worry.

For the nibbles, cocktail sausages in honey and mustard are always the favourite! Planning is key, so you can sit back, relax and enjoy the festivities too.”

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