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The complete Menu Guide to making your wedding the most delicious day of your life

The average cost of catering for a wedding in the UK is just under £4,000. For most of us, bankers aside, it’s the most expensive meal we’ll ever order. Yet how many of us can reel off a greatest hits of memorable wedding dining experiences? There’s just too much going on, and the logistical challenge of satisfying several generations, all whipped into an emotional frenzy, while keeping the cost down leads many couples to stick with safe but unspectacular options. But oh, how that trend is changing. For today’s wedding reception, a doughnut deli, food truck or mobile bar is just as likely as ‘Thinking Out Loud’ for the first dance. We asked some of our finest caterers how they plan for the big day…

CHRISTCHURCH HARBOUR HOTEL & SPA

  

Named by The Sunday Times as one of the top coastal hotels in the UK, not least because of the estimable tutelage of Michelin Star Chef Patron Alex Aitken behind the serving hatch, Christchurch Harbour Hotel offers a variety of luxury wedding packages at surprisingly affordable rates.

Fully licensed, the hotel can host ceremonies on a private outdoor terrace overlooking Mudeford Quay and Hengistbury Head, or in the indoor wedding suite with room for up to 120 guests. The location is stunning, with an 1830’s Grade II listed Georgian building transformed into a modern, stylish venue.

Packages cover the essential flourishes: red carpet arrival, Pimms and Bucks Fizz reception, canapes, three-course Wedding Breakfast including wine or a three-course BBQ menu, with a toastmaster and banqueting manager on hand to keep the wheels running.

A venue for each part of the day…

Limber up the day before (or the morning after, of course) at the on-site HarSpa for any last-minute manicures, pedicures and skin treatments. For the ladies, there’s the option of massage and a bit of much-needed pampering in capable hands.

Come the big day, The Waterford Suite can accommodate 100 guests for both the ceremony itself and the Wedding Breakfast. This is where guests are finally exposed to the full force of Michelin-star cooking, Aitken unleashed, showcasing fresh, local Dorset produce. You might even end up tucking into exquisite fresh catch landed right across the harbour at Mudeford Quay, visible through the full-length windows. Otherwise, it’s a beautifully elegant setting for the most important day of all – chandeliers, starched linen and more bows than an orchestra.

Vows exchanged and toasts made, guests can emerge onto the lawns beneath the Wedding Terrace for photographs, a full analysis of the Best Man’s speech, and if necessary restorative support from the dedicated Champagne beach hut. There’s even a solid oak swing for the perfect bridal photo, best accomplished before the bubbly kicks in.

With sundown approaching, the party moves to the Lower Deck, the hotel’s party venue, with an exclusive bar, room for a live band or DJ, 120 guests, and even space for a buffet. Let the dad dancing commence, closing out a memorable day spread across three delightful venues just a short walk from each other.

We spoke to Chef Marc Carella for a closer look at the culinary side of weddings at Christchurch Harbour Hotel…

What do you serve for weddings?

We serve an array of menu choices to suit each individual client ranging from lamb to guinea fowl, local sea bream to vegetarian risottos. Because of our location, there is a lot of variety in each season, and we strive to use local and seasonal produce wherever we can.

What would you like to try that you currently don’t serve?

I would personally like to do a lot more themed catering. We live in a multicultural society that boasts fantastic food.

Is there a secret to pleasing everyone in the range of dishes you choose?

The secret is high-quality produce and trying not to overcomplicate dishes. You cater for a wide variety of people at a wedding so to produce 100 starters, 100 mains, 100 desserts with no complaints is very satisfying.

What’s the biggest mistake couples make when planning their wedding food?

Again to overcomplicate things or to try too hard. You can make a complete dish that tastes great with 3-4 elements. Any more and the dish gets lost, also opening you up to more mistakes. Keep it simple but not plain and let the produce sing your praises.

What’s been your favourite wedding catering experience?

About three years ago we catered for an Indian wedding, and the groom was a chef so we worked very closely together in the week up to his wedding and it was phenomenal learning dishes and putting ideas into his head as well as mine. I still use some of the recipes at home today

What kind of trends do you see emerging in wedding catering?

I see wedding trends staying traditional but also a few new treats are starting to come through, street food being a big ask most of the time, and also just informal dining: BBQ’s, mezze platters. We cater for some weddings ‘Bring me food style’ which invokes the tradition of big family meals with everybody passing the ‘potatoes’ generally having a good time and chatting. It’s a very good ice breaker at a wedding and has become very popular!

Christchurch Harbour Hotel & Spa

95 Mudeford, Christchurch, BH23 3NT

01202 483434

www.christchurch-harbour-hotel.co.uk

 

BROWN GOOSE CATERING

Well-travelled chef Rob Scott and his wife Polly launched Brown Goose in Dorchester in 2016 as a private dining service.Increasingly, that means sitting down with couples to plan a bespoke Dorset wedding, ranging from three-course sit-down meals to Afternoon Tea or BBQ. The important thing for Rob is that there should be no price hike involved just because it’s a wedding, so a three-course meal comes in at around £30 a head and an Afternoon Tea at around £15. That hasn’t stopped the occasional request for “something around £5 a head”, which can only be described as a budget of Biblical proportions, even without wine. The trend, according to Rob, is to go away from three-course dinners. “They’re more labour and staff intensive, so more expensive. You get more from a buffet or a BBQ.”

Having worked in hotels and restaurants around the world, including a stint in his own food truck in Charlotte, North Carolina, Rob is no stranger to the kitchen, but catering for 80-100 all by himself is a new, daunting challenge.

“This last weekend, I did an Afternoon Tea and a buffet. That was three days of prep and I had an unfortunate scone cooking incident which meant I had to be cooking scones again on the Friday night.”  Afternoon teas, with scones, cream and jam piled high on a picnic table, with the cake stand showcasing the wedding cake offer that ‘wow’ factor, according to Rob. Some people are even using it as their main meal. “I’m not sure if that’s the best thing,” he admits. “There’s a lot of drink involved at a wedding and an afternoon tea is the best answer.”

Only about 10 percent of his clients request the three-course meal option at the moment. “People are moving to more flexible menus.” Either way, the trick is to be realistic. “I had an enquiry for a Christmas wedding where the customer had been looking at my private dinner menus and liked the idea of the crab ravioli and the pigeon. They’re great dishes when there are 15 to 20 people, but not so much for 120. I push people towards things that can be served quickly. Guests are hungry and they’re drinking. They don’t want a fancy meal that takes two hours to serve.”

“Hog roasts are a big thing now too,” adds Rob. “There’s a real trend away from formal dining. There’s no fixed idea of what a menu is anymore. A lot of that is because people don’t have to get married in certain places. Now you can get married in hotels, in fields, on the side of a beach. It ties people down less to where they can hire for the wedding.”

Brown Goose Catering

Dorchester

07470 096652

www.brown-goose.co.uk

 

BOURNEMOUTH HIGHCLIFF MARRIOTT HOTEL

Marriott is one of those hotel brands you trust to get a wedding right. It helps that the Bournemouth Marriott occupies one of the best clifftop spots in town, with big windows overlooking the full sweep of the bay. A spa, fitness centre and pool round out the picture. The hotel offers silver, gold and platinum wedding packages ranging from £59pp to £81pp. These include a Wedding Coordinator, Champagne reception, Master of Ceremonies, three-course Wedding breakfast, evening finger buffet, and canapes, among others. Couples are invited to get creative, but sample menus include smoked chicken and garlic terrine for starter, slow roast pork belly or braised blade of beef for main, and sticky toffee pudding or dark chocolate mousse for dessert. Solidly indulgent stuff for all palates. Afterwards, there’s a renowned cocktail bar to kick back in, and 160 guest rooms available to keep everyone in one place.

Bournemouth Highcliff Marriott Hotel

105 St. Michael’s Road, West Cliff, Bournemouth, BH2 5DU

01202 200845

BournemouthHighcliffMarriott.co.uk

 

KINGSTON MAURWARD

Home of the agricultural college, Kingston Maurward’s 18th-century mansion house, with its terraced lawns and lake, proves a perfect setting for a traditional wedding.

For Head Chef Chris Stockman, wedding catering is a regular outlet for his talents, with the ability to plunder the college’s locally bred free range meat and homegrown produce, as well as local supplies from Jurassic Meats and Grainger’s in Dorchester. Wedding parties at the mansion house tend to be quite traditional, so Chris created six different menus for winter and summer, according to budget, with a choice of five starters, four mains and four desserts. The most popular among these include the gammon hock parfait and the free range chicken breast with morel butter and crispy chorizo.

“You get two or three generations at a wedding, so you have to cater for everyone,” Chris explains. The full-service, three-course sit-down menu is balanced as an option with a hot buffet, barbecue, or evening light bites menu that includes fish and chips, hot crust pies and ciabatta bacon rolls. Also popular is the Hog Roast or evening BBQ for £16.50pp.

Whatever the choice, the venue benefits from the resources and staff to pull it off. “Weddings are about organisation and the facility,” says Chris. “If you’ve got a tiny little hot cupboard and you’re trying to serve plated meals to 150 guests, it’s going to be beyond your reaches.” Anyone who’s watched the chicken dishes emerge, followed by the fish, while waiting for the vegetarian option to arrive will appreciate the importance of knowing what the best approach is for the size of your reception. Matching their ambition is another thing.

“We did a wedding about three months ago, and the customer wanted a New York Steak with potatoes and Portobello mushrooms. Steak and chips in other words, but the finest steak,” Chris remembers. There’s a good reason why steak rarely features at a large wedding, apart from the cost, in that it’s almost impossible to deliver anything other than well-done steaks by the time each table is served. But Chris rose to the challenge. “It looked stunning,” he says. “Logistically a nightmare, but we got it perfect.”

Kingston Maurward College

Dorchester, DT2 8PY

01305 215000

www.kmc.ac.uk/weddings

 

CUMBERLAND HOTEL

Hosting your reception in a hotel takes away so many of the planning headaches. Oceana Hotels hosts weddings at four venues in Bournemouth, The Cumberland, The Suncliff, Ocean Beach Hotel, and the Best Western Hotel Royale.

At The Cumberland, renowned for its striking Art Deco exterior and clifftop location, Head Chef Jhouie Cruz serves a classic British and modern wedding menu, with the option of creating a bespoke menu for the all-important wedding breakfast. Currently, Jhouie is helping to develop a new Food Stall menu with a selection of fish and seafood, charcuterie, vegetarian delights and cheese.

The hotel helps guests plan their ideal Gala menu from a variety of seasonal packages according to budget, from the three-course Gala wedding breakfast to a roster of special packages that showcases the restaurant’s legendary Sunday roasts, buffets, BBQs, and hog roasts. All draw on the ready availability of fresh local seafood and prime Dorset meats.

With specific dietary requirements no longer a rarity, keeping everyone happy means offering all food choices, from vegan to gluten-free, with the same attention to detail. What shouldn’t be compromised, according to Jhouie, is the purpose of the event. “The bride and groom sometimes forget it’s their day,” he says, “and it should all be about what they want.”

That doesn’t mean the chef can’t get in on the fun. One recent wedding stands out. “My favourite so far was a modern Spanish Tapas banquet,” says Jhouie. “The food and wonderful aromas really stood out along with vibrant colours and fresh local produce.”
The year ahead, according to this particular chef, could be the “dawn of a new wedding era” where food is a highly evocative part of the experience. “Botanicals are blooming everywhere,” he says, “like pretty edible flowers on the plate. More informal food offerings will also become more popular. But quality is still key.”

Cumberland Hotel

27 E Overcliff Drive, Bournemouth, BH1 3AF

01202 298350

www.cumberlandhotel.oceana-collection.com

 

FJB HOTELS

Picture a traditional Dorset wedding, and it’s probably something very close to those featured in FJB Hotels’ very own wedding brochure, each detail overseen by dedicated wedding planner Sebastien Chene. Empty stretches of sweeping sands, sun-drenched dining rooms looking out over the harbour, and of course appetite-whetting shots of AA Rosette-standard cuisine. There are four hotels in all, the clifftop Chine Hotel in Bournemouth, and the Haven, Sandbanks and Harbour Heights on the Sandbanks peninsula. Four elite locations providing a quintessential South Coast wedding experience. If you only get married once, these are the venues you want your memories to be made.

Photography by Jamie Davis

HARBOUR HEIGHTS

Harbour Heights overlooks the Sandbanks Peninsula from its own private terrace, with Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island in the foreground. The two AA Rosette award winning restaurant is the domain of top French chef Loic Gratadoux, supported by an extensive fine wine cellar overseen by Head Sommelier Charles Van Wyk. Couples can choose to host their ceremony indoors in the Hytes Suite, with room for 100 guests, or al fresco on the private terrace. The Wedding Breakfast menu draws on exquisite flavours and finesse: warm mackerel escabeche, citrus and elderflower cured salmon or tuna carpaccio among others for starter; slow cooked pork belly, beef wellington or lamb rump among the mains; and classic Bakewell tart, cheesecake or fudge cake holding up the desserts. By sundown, the Hytes Suite transforms into the all-important dance floor with a private bar and DJ on hand.

Harbour Heights Hotel

Haven Road, Sandbanks, BH13 7LW

01202 007035

www.fjbhotels.co.uk/harbour-heights-hotel

 

THE HAVEN HOTEL

The Haven Hotel occupies a prime location on the entrance to the harbour, with Old Harry Rocks and Studland Bay in clear view. It’s an elegant 1920s venue that harks back to an era of classic glamour, with two licensed suites for hosting the ceremony. Paperwork over, guests are transferred to the capable hands of Executive Chef Jason Hornbuckle, a 25-year industry veteran and 1998 Egon Ronay Chef of the Year runner up. Couples can tailor a bespoke menu or select the three-course Wedding Breakfast of classic French and Modern British favourites. Highlights include the pressed ham hock terrine or caramelised onion and goats cheese tart for starter, beef bavette or rump of lamb for main, and indulgent desserts including sticky toffee pudding and chocolate and vanilla cheesecake.

Haven Hotel

Sandbanks, BH13 7QL

01202 007035

www.fjbhotels.co.uk/haven-hotel

SANDBANKS HOTEL

The envy of anyone who’s ever sat in the queue for the ferry, The Sandbanks Hotel dominates the entrance to the harbour. By extension, wedding parties in the fully licensed Compass Suite can enjoy an uninterrupted view of the ocean through the full-length windows, or take the formalities outside onto a private terrace. The serious business takes place in the 200-capacity Peninsula Suite which has upper and lower seating areas for the happy couple to look out over their assembled guests. Alternatively, the conservatory-style Compass Suite can accommodate up to 150 guests and offers the unusual option of a Chinese Wedding banquet. The traditional Wedding Breakfast menu is a roll call of gorgeous terrines and roulades, slow braised mains, as well as the 28-day matured striploin of beef, and delicate desserts including a lemon assiette of mini desserts.

Sandbanks Hotel

Sandbanks, BH13 7PS

01202 007035

www.fjbhotels.co.uk/sandbanks-hotel

 

CHINE HOTEL

The outlier of the group is the Chine Hotel, set on three acres in Boscombe Chine, with beautifully landscaped gardens overlooked by the airy Pine View ballroom. Not surprisingly, there’s an al fresco BBQ menu as a wedding option, and the opportunity to wind down between sessions in the BathHouse spa. For the ceremony itself, couples can plump for the Garden Gazebo for an intimate al fresco service, the Pine View ballroom or the 40-capacity Garden Room. Dining is a hearty but refined affair, including North Atlantic prawn and salmon tian, grilled Dorset mackerel and confit duck terrine for starter, slow braised West Country beef, pork tenderloin and roast saddle of lamb for main, and warm treacle tart, dark chocolate tart and glazed lemon tart for dessert.

The Chine Hotel

25 Boscombe Spa Road, Bournemouth, BH5 1AX

01202 007035

www.fjbhotels.co.uk/chine-hotel

We caught up with Head Chef at the Harbour Heights Hotel, Loic Gratadoux, for his take on preparing luxury wedding receptions to match the setting.
What do you serve for weddings?

We serve a wide variety of dishes. From the classic melon terrine with a modern twist, such as popping candy, to the more elaborate prawn and brown shrimp mousse with cucumber jelly. As a starter, we also love our smoked chicken ballotine with a date purée. For the mains, my favourites are the lamb rump and the Beef Wellington. Both are really different but so interesting to cook.

What would you like to try that you currently don’t serve?

I would love to offer more French dishes such as foie gras, veal or fish tartare – they are really delicious and very famous in France.

Is there a secret to pleasing everyone in the range of dishes you choose?

I simply cook every dish carefully with attention to detail, using the right ingredients combined with perfect seasoning. If you respect your ingredients, they will always shine and make happy everyone!

What’s the biggest mistake couples make when planning their wedding food?

Couples tend to try to please everyone at their wedding and forget that this is a celebration of their union and the dishes should be about them and the cuisine they love. I would always suggest for couples to choose dishes they enjoy, perhaps with a personal history, maybe their first date or their engagement dinner, or where they are from, where they have visited together or a special dish they cook at home together.

What’s been your favourite wedding catering experience?

I once catered for an international rugby player in France. This was amazing. It was a real challenge to organise the catering for all these rugby players including food and drinks!

What kind of trends do you see emerging in wedding catering?

Wedding catering has truly evolved over the years. Couples are much more aware that the ‘wedding breakfast’ is one of the fundamental parts of the day and they want to impress their guests and add their style to the menu. Individuality is definitely trending, for example adding an exotic twist to the menu, or a fun childhood memory to the dessert course.

 

DORSET MARKET KITCHEN

Jeff Oliver Photography

Already whipping up a storm across the county (and beyond) with his gourmet street food, Keiran James is in hot demand for those who want quality local produce with a slightly more laid-back feel at their wedding. The team works with couples to create menus built around top-quality produce sourced from across Dorset and Somerset, including hand smoked Dorset trout, Lulworth Cove mackerel or Dorset Blue Vinny for starters, roast shoulder of Dorset lamb or roast cod for main, and traditional Eton Mess with New Forest berries for dessert. Wash it all down (with dignity) with English sparkling wines, or Dorset craft beer and cider.

Dorset Market Kitchen Co.

01305 851758

www.dorsetmarketkitchen.co.uk

 

CRAB APPLE CATERING

Creative foodies Emma Senior and Carl Thomson won Best Newcomer of the Year at the Dorset Magazine Food and Drink awards in 2015 for their wonderfully quirky, personality-infused catering. Based in Swanage, the team offers a table service menu for £36pp, a buffet for £20pp or creative canapes for £7.50pp. The thought that has gone into each item is impossible to miss, whether it’s cracked crab claws, venison sliders, potted Dorset crab or wild game Scotch eggs, not to mention slow-cooked Dorset hog, West Country lamb, or even goat.

Crab Apple Catering

Prospect Crescent, Swanage, BH19 1EJ

01929 505029

www.crabapplecatering.co.uk

BRIDGE HOUSE HOTEL

Now under the management of Joanna and Mark Donovan for 13 years, Beaminster’s Bridge House hotel puts on laid back al fresco dining, BBQ, cream teas and a bespoke cocktail bar from resident mixologist Lloyd Brown, in a stunning 13th-century country house. The theme throughout is providing a bespoke, individual experience that couples can tailor to their own taste and memories. For Head Chef Dan Viner, it’s about keeping it simple and personal. “They don’t want to be mucking around with garnishes,” he says. His perfect wedding menu? Scallops to start, roast leg of lamb for the main, and a trio of chocolate brownie, lemon tart and ice cream before hitting the dance floor.

Bridge House Hotel

3 Prout Bridge, Beaminster, DT8 3AY

01308 862200

www.bridge-house.co.uk

THE PRIORY

For weddings with a more modest guest list, The Priory Hotel on the banks of the River Frome is a hideaway of outstanding gastronomy in an English garden setting. Managed by the same family for more than 40 years, this boutique hotel can accommodate 42 guests in the hotel, and roughly the same in an outdoor marquee. For £50 a head, guests are treated to a three-course menu but with the option to sample a couple of dishes per course. When you have a Loire-born French chef such as Stephan Guinebault in the kitchen, the results are awesome. Expect dishes including Kimmeridge lobster, prawn and crab cocktail, ballotine of guinea fowl for starter, Devon Red Beef fillet, Somerset duck, loin of Piddle Valley lamb for main, and summer berry fruit pudding, chocolate pear brioche and butter pudding for dessert, among others.

The Priory

Church Green, Wareham, BH20 4ND

01929 551666

www.theprioryhotel.co.uk

 

DORSET CATERING SERVICES

Chef Jamie Perry specialises in traditional canapes right through to seven-course wedding breakfasts, not to mention Full Afternoon Teas, hog roasts, BBQs and wood-fired pizzas. Like so many of our chefs, he stresses the importance of the couple keeping it their day. “If they want to go on an extravagant journey of scallops and black pudding followed by a pink rump of lamb, then I would step in,” he says. “You would have to add on a very good vegetarian menu as a minimum 50% of your guests would not like the menu.” He sees a future that incorporates marquees anywhere from farm barns to car parks. “My most recent event was a Mexican theme,” he says.

Dorset Catering Services

01929 761333

www.dorsetcateringservices.co.uk

HOTEL MIRAMAR

Bournemouth’s Hotel Miramar remains a stylish and popular wedding venue, mostly for sit-down gourmet dining, but with a growing trend towards less formal wedding breakfasts including BBQ, buffet or vintage afternoon tea. New for the year ahead is the bowl food menu, with 2 or 3 smaller, individual bowl servings for each course. It’s a popular quirk in London weddings that eliminates a lot of stress and potential wrangling over the menu. Overall, more couples are going for individual, bespoke ideas that reflect their personality: beach-themed marquee weddings, casual canapes such as mini fish and chip cones, or BBQ and a band. Call it sacrilege, but the traditional wedding cake is even finding itself replaced with cheese cakes.

Hotel Miramar

Overcliff Drive, Bournemouth, BH1 3AL

01202 556851

Miramar-bournemouth.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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