Top tips for creating the ideal event menu

Food salad on plate
As we approach the summer, our executive chef at 116 Pall Mall discusses how he works with planners to create seasonal menus, along with how tastes are changing and what would be his ideal three-course meal...

Andrew Doherty is the Executive Head Chef at 116 Pall Mall. He boasts over 20 years of experience in the catering industry both here and in his native Australia.

Andrew joined 116 Pall Mall in 2016. At that time, the catering operation had come under the management of Benugo, and The Restaurant at 116 was about to move location from The Director’s Room to the Morning and Spears Rooms that overlook Waterloo Place.

Benugo has restaurants and cafes at iconic museums, galleries and institutions such as the Natural History Museum and the Wellcome Collection, as well as the V&A where Andrew previously served as Head Chef.

Here, he talks about the challenges of catering for such a wide and varied audience and what considerations go into preparing menus for events at 116...

Catering for All Tastes

“Typically, and traditionally, banqueting has been a big serving of meat and potatoes. For us, it’s a bit different, because we have so many and varied clients, some of who will want a large meal. If it doesn’t look massive, they will think they are not getting value.

However, I think a three-course meal is a lot of food to eat. With any of our menus, you’ll always have plenty to eat – not too much, not too little.

Also, food is constantly evolving in terms of what people want and what you’re catering for. With each passing year, I would say people are more focused on what they are consuming and have become more conscious about both of their own health and their environment. So, the traditional meat and two veg style of food is on the way out.”

Healthier Choices

“With a lot the buffets that we’re currently doing, we now offer bowl dishes. In January, we introduced Buddha Bowls as part of our menu at Café Duke, I think that’s a nice way to eat because you get to try lots of different things, as opposed to a load of the same thing.

There are occasions where I try to encourage serving bowl dishes when we have lunch events. They’re lighter and you can try four or five different bowls rather than everyone having chicken, beef or salmon.

In general, we’re heading in the direction of eating lighter. The influx of different cuisines all over the world has influenced how we eat and we are bearing that in mind in terms of what we’re trying to do here.”

Working with Planners

“If, for example, you are catering for 200 people at a sit down three-course meal, the first thing you’re trying to do is to come up with something that will please as many guests as possible, purely for practical purposes.

The planner will know their crowd better than I do, but I will try to guide them towards a menu that’s appropriate for the time of year. If it’s summer, then it could be a cold, vegetable-based starter, a fish main course that comes with a light garnish, and then a pudding based on what’s in season.

Age is the biggest defining factor in terms of how you want to shape the menu. We have guests who have been coming for a long time and have certain expectations.

There is also a far greater awareness around allergies and there are legal requirements to make people aware and inform people of what’s in their food.”

Changing Tastes

“A lot more people are turning away from eating meat. I think this trend will only continue and it’s making us think in a different way about what the customer wants to eat.

One challenge is to come up with a main course that is fulfilling for a vegan. It’s easier to satisfy that audience when you have bowl food. Also, it’s not difficult to come up with loads of tasty small plates for vegans.

So, it poses a bit of a test when designing a menu. But it’s a good challenge, and something we should embrace.

I would steer away from trying to be too adventurous, especially when you’re catering for large numbers. But to contradict that slightly, there are ingredients that we use now and that have become far more prevalent that we wouldn’t have thought about using a few years ago. Even things like using seeds. When I was younger, that was seen as some sort of hippy food, but now it’s viewed as a different type of protein.”

The Party Season

“If we’re looking at a summer party in the gardens at 116 Pall Mall, I would be looking at fish or vegetable-based canapes. So, it could be fish tartare or crab. Or, if it’s the height of summer, baby vegetables with dips using a combination of beetroot and horseradish. Essentially, I’m thinking about things that are light and typically could be eaten either cold or warm.

With events, we try to keep things fairly crowd-pleasing and there will be fairly classic combinations. To give you an example, I wouldn’t put squid and salad on the menu even though it’s something that personally I would like to eat in the summer. It’s not what people are after.

Spring/early summer is the best time to eat lamb. Mint and lamb is quintessentially English and is something I would consider for a summer banquet. It might be two cuts of lamb, like the rump or a slower cooked cut or a rib.

Ewes milk cheese and lamb is from the same animal. Again, these combinations work naturally and could feature on a summer menu.”

My Ideal Three-Course Meal

“I would probably start with langoustines, very simply prepared because I think the more you mess around with them you don’t want to detract from such good produce. Then it would be the best cut of beef I could get my hands on.

Our pastry chef produced a Sorrento Lemon Sponge with lemon cream and limoncello. It’s a lot more exciting than it may sound and I can promise you that it’s a really nice way to end a summer lunch.”

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One of the most prestigious addresses in London, 116 Pall Mall is situated in the heart of the West End and offers a range of flexible spaces across five floors, perfect for any kind of event for up to 1,500 people. 

You can even hire our whole building exclusively on weekends. 

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