Food Drinks

Muse Boutique owner Olivia Vincent reveals her secrets to the perfect dinner party

“Everyone loves a home-cooked meal,” says Olivia Vincent. “The conversations are great, the vibe is good and everyone feels more comfortable.”

As owner of Muse Boutique, with two stylish stores in Auckland's Newmarket and Ponsonby, Vincent doesn't have much time to fuss over every detail when she invites guests to come and break bread – and this makes lunch with her even more delightful.

Going with her instincts and throwing together in-season ingredients, served on oversized platters, she creates feasts that are full of flavour and her relaxed demeanour ensures the conversation is free to flow.

Today, for a long lunch with Simply You, Vincent invited family: fiancé Nick Healy, mother Katrina, sister Milly and grandmother Elizabeth. On the menu are some of her favourite dishes, inspired by her love of travel.

To start, wholegrain bread is served with raw salmon, beetroot and greens atop a spread of goat's cheese, crème fraîche, lemon zest, horseradish and dill. While this is devoured, her lemon roast chicken, in part inspired by a year spent in Greece, turns golden in the oven – roasted with butter, lashings of lemon juice, olive oil, thyme, oregano and rosemary, it is then served on a large platter with potatoes to suck up the sauce.

She now jets to Europe four times a year for a busy schedule of buying appointments for her fashion boutiques, but always makes time for indulging her family and friends when she's home in Auckland.

On these occasions, pasta is a popular option – "Everyone loves pasta" – and Vincent is known to make a knock-out spaghetti vongole. A giant sharing board covered in cheese and charcuterie, and a generously large salad are other staples.

Vincent believes it's best not to try too hard when entertaining loved ones, and a rustic presentation, with heaps of herbs on top, suits her spontaneous styling.

One of the most memorable meals she's hosted was a birthday lunch at Poderi Crisci restaurant on Waiheke Island (she loves dining out, too).

"It was such a great group of friends who didn't all know each other that well, but we've all been super-close since that lunch," she says. "The food there is also divine. The stuffed zucchini flowers…"

Resplendent celebrity cook Nigella Lawson is her "food idol" and the similarities between the domestic goddesses are obvious – both brunette, vivacious and calm under pressure. She credits her best friend, Sophie, and Sophie's fiancé, Tom Hishon (of Ponsonby eatery Orphans Kitchen), with teaching her to be creative in cooking.

"They are always out foraging and creating these incredible dinners from new ingredients."

Vincent's pavlova, famous in her circle of friends, makes for a dramatic dessert. It's a family recipe made with 16 egg whites.

"We have a huge family so when we make a pavlova it's got to be large."

While the boutique owner would pass on a piece of cake at the end of a meal, a light and airy pavlova is her perfect finale.

"It's so crunchy on the outside and chewy and gooey on the inside. I just layer it with anything that's in season and it's just beautiful."

Today the meringue masterpiece is decorated with apricots – a tad tart, they cut through the sweetness of her signature dessert.

For Vincent, the table setting is a chance to set the scene as soon as guests step into her home. Today the setting suits its oasis of an outdoor venue with a cascading runner of silver dollar eucalyptus, artistically arranged by Alex Lovich of Wonder Florals, who also creates the trendsetting bouquets for Muse Boutique.

A fresh, uncluttered table setting is Vincent's forte. Clear crystal glasses by RCR Crystal, waxy white candles from Città and sleek Tablekraft cutlery keep the look slick.

"The food is the only colour I need," she says. "A crisp white tablecloth always helps make the food pop."

Olivia Vincent, pictured with fiancé Nick Healy, loves throwing together one of her easygoing lunches.
Olivia Vincent, pictured with fiancé Nick Healy, loves throwing together one of her easygoing lunches.

Secondhand and Salvation Army stores are her secret to finding special pieces for her table. She also keeps an eye out for unique servingware at Simon James Concept Store, just over the road from Muse Newmarket, and regularly browses online store Fourth Street Home.

Chairs need to be comfortable and Vincent adds sheepskins to her dining chairs in the cooler months to keep things cosy. She's not pedantic about place settings but likes to separate partners and may introduce a seating plan if it's a larger group of people who don't know each other yet, to help the conversation flow.

For lunch, nothing matches the meal better than a rosé or a fruity wine, in Vincent's opinion. Wooing Tree's Blondie blanc de noir is her current drop of choice – "so light and refreshing". Sparkling water with fresh citrus is always on the table, too.

The big reveal: a gargantuan family pavlova with roasted stone fruit.
The big reveal: a gargantuan family pavlova with roasted stone fruit.

A dinner party, on the other hand, invariably starts with a Champagne toast – with Perrier Jouët, preferably. Espresso martinis after dinner get everyone on the dance floor, when fiancé Healy's rambling record collection – "Soul, jazz… all sorts" – gets a spin.

These occasions are often spontaneous affairs, with Vincent known to throw last-minute dinner parties even on weeknights. In those cases, invitations need to be quick, by way of instant messaging. But for a more planned-out dinner party, including her pending wedding reception, Vincent says she loves the opportunity to post something special.

While she has an enviable wardrobe, including her Diane von Furstenberg costume changes during Simply You's shoot, Vincent often doesn't have a lot of time to get ready for guests. In these cases, a light silk top or wrap dress are her go-to's.

Her very practical food preparation tips are to keeps things simple and choose dishes that can be mostly made before the guests arrive.

"There's nothing worse than being stuck in the kitchen whilst everyone is at your home."

Food intolerances are at the top of her list to check: "Many of my friends are dairy-free so I can't use lashings of butter like I usually do."

She's also a stickler for stacking the dishes after the meal, to be washed once everyone goes home; she refuses to let guests help with the clean-up.

However, with caffeinated martinis flowing, it can be hard for guests to go home.

"Oh goodness," says Vincent, "there have been some long lunches which have gone on into the early hours!"

Find the full story, including Olivia Vincent's recipes for this meal, and more in the latest issue of Simply You.