The perfect menu

Your reception takes the biggest slice of your budget and it's often what guests remember most. Here's some of the latest trends to guide you

Indulgence Boutique fish dish
Indulgence Boutique Hospitality © Chloe Ely

Our guide to planning the perfect menu

There are so many food options for weddings today that you could be forgiven for not knowing where to start on planning your perfect menu. Food trucks or a classic sit-down meal? Grazing tables or carve-it-yourself roasts? So we asked some of the country’s top chefs and caterers for their tips to help point you in the right direction.

Indulgence Boutique grazing platter
Indulgence Boutique Hospitality © Lucy Davenport

Indulgence Boutique dessert
Indulgence Boutique Hospitality © Chloe Ely

Don’t blow the budget 

Firstly, be realistic about how much you have to spend. If fine dining at a must at the top of your ‘perfect menu’ list, but your budget won’t stretch that far, consider having fewer guests but more fabulous food. Alternatively, if it’s all about having as many people as possible on the big day, then go for sharing options where you’ll get more for your money. Remember, too, that tasty, well-cooked food always goes down well, so choose a beautifully prepared simple menu over something complicated and expensive.

Match the food to the mood

‘We offer a bespoke service, so we always start by asking clients about the style they want for their big day,’ says Jo Robinson of Indulgence Boutique Hospitality. ‘Then we work with them to create a menu that reflects this and their venue, both in terms of the food and the style of service.

‘For couples looking for a relaxed, more informal vibe, we often suggest feasting and sharing menus with delicious on-trend carved meats and Ottolenghi-style salads. We love the buzz that this creates and passing food around the table is a great ice breaker for guests who don’t know each other. For clients who want something more formal, we often guide them down the route of fine dining menus, which are more likely to be a plated dish for each course.

‘One big trend that’s coming through is not sitting down at all for the wedding feast, but serving canapés and bowl food instead, with guests standing around tall tables. This is great for couples who love the idea of an informal party vibe – it’s the style favoured by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex for their wedding. It’s also perfect if you want to avoid complicated seating plans.’

Montagu Arms partridge main
Montagu Arms, Beaulieu

Local, seasonal and delicious

Let the season and your location dictate the choices for your perfect menu. ‘Local and seasonal food is something that couples are starting to care more about,’ says Matthew Whitfield, head chef at the New Forest’s Montagu Arms. ‘We recently hosted an event where the couple specifically asked for local produce. It was incredible to showcase some of the amazing produce from the area, such as ChalkStream trout, apples from Pennington and eggs from our own brood of rescue hens.

‘Seasonal ingredients often taste better and are more nutritious, as they haven’t been force-grown in unnatural environments. Plus, buying local means you get the ingredients on the plate quicker (at their freshest), it reduces your carbon footprint and supports the local economy. For summer weddings, I think a fillet of salmon with summer veg, parsley and garlic velouté is a great choice. This brightly coloured dish incorporates fresh ingredients that represent the best of the season. Come winter, celeriac risotto with New Forest mushrooms and braised beef cheek is rich and comforting. We serve it with pickled cabbage that cuts through the richness and lightens the dish, so you don’t get sleepy, overly full guests.’

Jackson Gilmour Pepper tarte tatin
Pepper Tarte Tatin, Jackson Gilmour

Fabulous food for everyone

In the past, couples (or their guests) with dietary requirements often felt short changed, but today their needs can set the tone for the whole menu.

‘Everyone – vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free or vegan – should feel like they’re being served food which is just as delicious as the other guests,’ says Joyce O’Hagan at Jackson Gilmour. ‘Our new plant-based menu reflects this, but we’re also finding that an increasing number of “plant-curious” couples, who are concerned about sustainability and the environmental impact of food, are choosing to serve this kind of menu to all their guests.’

Bubble Food Mexican station
Bubble Food Mexican station

Bubble Food Copper station
Bubble Food Copper station

Late-night munchies

Finally, if you want your guests to party into the small hours then you’ll need to keep them well fed. This can be anything from a classic buffet option to bacon butties, wood-fired pizzas or cones of fish ’n’ chips. The right choice of food can also add a touch of excitement to the night.

‘At Bubble Food, we’ve seen food trends shift over the years,’ says Jens Nisson, executive head chef. ‘Instead of focusing solely on a delicious menu for the reception, couples now consider evening food to be just as important. We particularly love interactive food stations. We can have fun with the presentation – by personalising each one with the couple’s name or adding a caricature of the couple to serving bowls – so it’s a delightful surprise for all the guests once it’s revealed!’

 

FURTHER READING: How to choose your wedding wine