70s dinner party chic

Black Forest Cake

Black Forest Cake - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Charlotte Smith-Jarvis creates the ultimate throwback supper

Prawn Cocktail in a glass

Prawn Cocktail in a glass - Credit: Getty Images

The way we eat changed almost beyond recognition in the 70s. With the frugal era of spam fritters and make-do-and-mend on the backburner and with ready meals and microwave dinners popping up left right and centre, we’d never had so much choice.

Those were the days when pubs were drinking holes that served chicken in a basket. When instant mash was every mum’s secret to a quick fix dinner. And when nothing was so elegant than cheese on a stick poked into a pineapple.

Our tastes changed as we travelled more.

With holidays abroad becoming more affordable, we brought back dishes from our trips – especially France - and thought we were really rather posh if we put duck a l’orange on the table (using an Elizabeth David or Robert Carrier recipe, of course).

When it came to dinner, hosts in the 70s had everything sorted. After offering lashings of gin and tonic, or perhaps Campari, there’d be a quick assembly starter – you’ve got to love a devil on horseback – followed probably by something like a French beef stew that had been bubbling on the stove all day. And to top it all off there’d be a glamorous baked Alaska, trifle or maybe even pineapple upside down cake, it’s pillbox red cherries glistening on top.

Here’s my homage to the era – all dishes my mother (who worked in the hotel industry at the time) assures me were must-haves on the menu for any discerning dinner party host.

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Try them out this weekend! Each recipe serves four, apart from the pudding – but if you really think you can eat a quarter of a Black Forest gateaux…

Recipe: Prawn cocktail

If you’ve been following Celebrity Masterchef you may have seen the episode in which the contestants were tasked with making prawn cocktail.

Gregg and John cast bemused glances at one another as they watched the celebrities neatly line-up pieces of little gem around the inside of their glasses.

Apparently this is a big no-no and a ‘proper’ prawn cocktail has to have shredded lettuce. But if you’re feeling rebellious, do what you like with your leaves – who cares!


500g cooked peeled prawns, 100g good mayonnaise, 50g tomato sauce, Tabasco sauce, 2 lemons, ground paprika, a large lettuce (iceberg is classic)


So, shred your lettuce if you will, and use it to line four glasses or any other vessel you like.

Mix together the mayonnaise and tomato sauce and, using one of the lemons, add a squeeze of juice and some Tabasco to taste. Season with salt and pepper.

Place your prawns in a bowl and add enough sauce to bind.

Spoon into your waiting glasses of lettuce and sprinkle with paprika at the last moment. Quarter the remaining lemon and serve a wedge with each glass.

Recipe: Steak Diane

This was the epitome of class back in the day. If you could flambé, you were queen or king of the kitchen.

For this recipe you need quite thin steaks (about half a centimetre each). I like using sirloin because it has such a great flavour. If you can’t get thin enough steaks ask your butcher to flatten them for you, or (if you are using supermarket meat) invest in a cheap meat hammer and do it yourself.


4 lean steaks

6 shallots, finely chopped

1 heaped tablespoon French mustard

Worcestershire sauce

Shot glass of red wine (drink the rest with dinner or freeze in ice cubes for use in other recipes)

Shot glass of cream

100ml beef stock

Shot glass of brandy

Butter for cooking

Salt and pepper


Get a large frying pan nice and hot with a good knob of butter. Season the steaks well on both sides and when you can see the butter bubbling pop them in the pan and cook for a minute either side.

Take the steak out and set it on a plate, covering with foil or another plate.

Turn the heat down to low and sauté the shallots until translucent. Stir in the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, wine and stock and boil to reduce the liquid by a third.

Add the brandy and carefully set alight to burn off the alcohol.

When the flames have died down add the cream and turn the heat up to thicken the sauce so it coats the back of a spoon.

Return the steaks to the pan to warm through then serve with French fries and a green salad.

Recipe: Black Forest gateaux

In the USA it’s not so common to include booze in a Black Forest gateaux. This is positively criminal in Germany, where pastry chefs don’t dare to entitle their puds schwarzwalder kirschtorte unless they are soaked with a good dose of the cherry liqueur the cake is named for.

This is a dessert you shouldn’t do by halves so I recommend getting a bottle of Kirsch. It will come in handy for those 70s inspired kir royale cocktails!


6 medium eggs, separated

100g caster sugar

75g muscovado sugar

125g plain flour, sifted

50g best cocoa (I use Green and Blacks), sifted

1tsp vanilla extract

85g sunflower oil

600ml double cream, whipped to peaks that hold their shape

1 large can pitted dark cherries, chop half, keep half whole and reserve the liquid


200g grated dark chocolate


Do the boring stuff first like pre-heating the oven to 180C and lining a deep, 22cm round loose-bottomed cake tin with greaseproof paper.

Eggs are the main raising agent in this cake, so it needs a bit more work than your usual measure and mix cake.

Start by placing your egg yolks and sugar in a heatproof bowl and set this above a saucepan of simmering water.

Use an electric whisk and beat until the mix is pale yellow coloured and has a mousse-like consistency.

Spoon in the sifted cocoa and flour bit by bit with a metal spoon and fold in, then fold in the oil and vanilla.

In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form (hold it over your head if you dare) and then fold this into your chocolate mixture.

Transfer the mixture to your prepared tin and cook for about 35-40 minutes. The cake will start to come away from the sides.

When the tin is cool enough to handle, remove the cake and let it cool completely.

Cut the cake into three even pieces.

Mix about six tablespoons of cherry juice from the tin with an equal amount of Kirsch and brush this over every layer of the cake.

Then layer the cake up with some of the whipped cream and chopped cherries, reserving half the cream.

Once assembled use the remaining cream to cover the top and sides of the cake and use a palette knife to press the grated chocolate around the sides.

If there’s any cream left you can pipe this as decoration on top.

Finish by putting the whole cherries at the centre of the top of the cake.

Voila, pudding is served.

In the 70s we loved…

Pineapple upside down cake

Crepes suzette

Scampi and chips

Coq au vin

Beouf bourguinon


Quiche Lorraine

Chicken Kiev

Baked alaska

Do you remember these sweet treats?

Spangles, Marathon, Aztec, Ice Breaker, Texan, Welcome, Old Jamaica, Amazin’ raisin bar, Grand Seville, Bar Six, Rumba

Better best forgotten

Cheese fondue, Vesta curries, curry stuffed eggs, vol au vents, Smash, Swanson frozen microwave dinners, Findus Crispy Pancakes, Birds Eye’s Arctic Roll, Vienetta

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