Perfect setting | Monocle

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Mix and match

Thommy Bindefeld

Creative director of Svenskt Tenn


“I hate it when things look beautiful but don’t work practically. Often when you go to a nice restaurant there are table settings that match the food but maybe the cutlery falls badly on the plate. When I’m hosting it’s important to have a neat fabric tablecloth and to use fabric napkins, not the paper ones. It’s nice to have plain plates with colourful or patterned napkins – one or the other should stand out. I also like to mix and match something I have inherited or something old with modern pieces.”

Root of the matter

Caz Hildebrand

Creative partner at Here Design


“Too many pieces of cutlery intimidate people. A meal should be about pleasure, not tension; a sensory experience not a display of archaic manners. It’s nice to celebrate the beauty of raw ingredients. A bunch of carrots can be as beautiful as a bunch of flowers.”

Glass half full

Caitlyn Rees

Head sommelier at Fred’s


“I think it feels anonymous when a glass of wine comes to you already poured. We try and pour everything at the table, making sure the label’s facing the guests, because it’s nice to be able to see the bottle. If it’s a bigger group I keep all the empty bottles and line them up nearby – people like to see what they’ve had and we have a lot of different and interesting wines.”

Kingly cutlery

Barbara Kamler-Wild

Art director of Wiener Silber Manufactur


“Thanks to Vienna’s royal court we’ve always cultivated a rich dining culture; silverware was passed down from one generation to the next. Everything that you put in your mouth should be well chosen: it has a sensuous quality that makes all the difference and turns a dinner into an experience.”

Firm foundation

Johnny Smith

Co-founder of Luca


“Everything should be immaculate and the table must be welcoming. Make it symmetrical but not rigid. And please, please, please, no table wobble. I also hate sitting down and finding a soiled salt pot. It shows such lack of care and cleanliness. As for tablecloths, it’s horses for courses. Consider the setting, your clientele, tradition and how you want to make your guests feel.”

Get messy

Shamil Thakrar

Co-founder of Dishoom


“I tested about 60 different white plates on cut-outs to get the right size, aesthetics and arrangement. We wanted our table to feel full, informal and almost messy because that’s what encourages hearty eating. If you’re eating over a tablecloth chances are you’ll be worried about ruining it but spilling food across our marble tabletop actually complements it. The sound of plates clattering on naked marble is great.”

Tasteful takeaway

Marcus Samuelsson

Chef at Red Rooster

New York

“You shouldn’t try to recreate a restaurant at home. There’s an opportunity to do something different and you can be more liberal: my wife and I come from Ethiopia so I like to have some Ethiopian fabrics and two small bowls of berbere, an Ethiopian spice – it’s red and very pungent. You can let the guests take it home as a gift; that’s always a win.”

Well aligned

Christian Dangel

Director of Kronenhalle


“How you place a tablecloth is crucial. Seams must be aligned and of course it must be nicely ironed. Cotton napkins shouldn’t be folded too much; once is enough. Cutlery also needs to be well aligned – say, a width of two fingers from the edge of the table. We only put candles on the tables on two occasions: Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Also, you won’t get mobile phone reception in our restaurant and we’ll keep it that way.”

Up the garden path

Raymond Blanc

Chef at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons

Oxford, UK

“I love to personalise the table and handmade name cards are one of my favourites; they make the experience so much more intimate and memorable. I think it really is those little home touches that make all the difference. The last time I entertained I dressed the table with bowls of freshly picked greenery from the garden. Last Christmas I dressed our family table [at Besançon, France] with nightlights, which created a very intimate ambience. We also collected pine cones and painted them, which added a really festive feel.”

Tabletop diplomacy

André Corrêa do Lago

Brazilian ambassador to Japan


“The table symbolises a moment of great opportunity for diplomacy. Some look at it as frivolous, while in reality a well-set table can ensure that the event you are organising will have a positive impact. At a seated dinner music can disturb the conversation a bit but at a standing-up reception some Brazilian rhythms, such as bossa nova, can contribute to the atmosphere. When setting a table, the challenge is to add something extra to what exists already.”

Line them up

Elena Arzák

Chef at Restaurante Arzak

San Sebastián

“I don’t like too many elements on the table. I like flowers because they transmit peace of mind and make a space feel alive. Organisation is also very important. When hosting I prefer to organise trays on the side in advance with cutlery and plates, so that I can change them during the meal, instead of putting everything on the table all at once.”

Up in the air

Willa To

Products and services strategy at All Nippon Airways


“As a Japanese airline we want our customers to experience Japanese hospitality. Our chopsticks are simple and made of wood and they sit on a white china hashi-oki (chopsticks stand). On flights there’s a weight limit so we don’t want to use utensils that are too heavy; we would rather carry more food and drink for customers. We prefer products that are made in Japan and we’ve worked closely with tableware-maker Noritake to design lightweight cups, plates and utensils.”

Tinkling the ivories

Layo Paskin

Co-owner of Palomar


“I live in east London and there is a restaurant near me that has a pianist at the weekends, which is really nice. Would I want that every day to every meal I went to? No but in that setting it works fantastically well. If music is thoughtlessly played – set lists or easy-listening jazz – it’s a bit innocuous. You wouldn’t try to serve food with the same lack of care. If you are going to play music there has to be a lot of attention to detail.”

Break the rules

Michael Booth

Journalist and food author


“Some of my best meals have been in tiny places with no decoration and terrible lighting: tapas bars and food joints where people throw their napkins on the floor. On the other hand I’m a total sucker for the grand table; what you’d get at a three-Michelin-star restaurant in France. But in a domestic setting you shouldn’t follow rules. The one thing I can’t stand is a ‘talking point’ object on a table.”

Bowled over

Alberto Alessi

CEO of Alessi, a tableware design company Omegna


“I look after the aesthetics of the table but I am interested in its anthropology: the bowl is probably one of the first objects that was ever created by man. It’s one of the very first examples of design. That design is thousands of years old but in 100 years I bet you our descendants will still be using porcelain plates very similar to what we were using 500 years ago. People have affectionate relationships with objects that prevent them from getting rid of things.”

Law low

Willin Low

Chef and partner at Po


“What’s important is that the table is not too cluttered. We try to keep crockery and glassware as low as possible: in traditional Chinese and Japanese cuisine, the glassware is always low. It’s just to ensure no one topples anything over when they’re reaching to take something. And we always have chopsticks. Chopsticks can be used for almost everything.”

Clear vision

John Pawson



“I like the table to be laid as simply and sparsely as possible, with just what you need in the moment and no array of glasses or cutlery. I suppose it’s the logical corollary of a clear visual field in a room; it’s more restful if the eye is not constantly distracted by unnecessary things. This preference for clarity also extends to food: the French habit of serving the meat or fish separately from the vegetables or salad, rather than all piled together on the same plate, makes perfect sense to me.”

Everyday use

Malin Ljungström

Product developer for cooking, eating and dining at Ikea

Växjö, Sweden

“We are constantly looking at the way people cook, serve and eat their food. We can see some differences around the world but in terms of everyday life at home, humans have core needs and it is those that we work with. We’ve definitely seen a movement away from what used to be perceived as a traditional dinner plate towards a deep plate or a bowl. A stemmed glass always brings a certain feel of festivity to any table, no matter if it’s your everyday dinner or a special occasion.”

Glass act

Maximilian Riedel

CEO of Riedel

Kufstein, Austria

“When hosting a dinner I like to start with the basics: consider the menu and pick the wine. The wine should not match the menu but represent your personal thoughts. It’s the host’s job to express himself. I always welcome guests with a glass of champagne and by candlelight. I set the table with a lot of glassware, and for Christmas I like to decorate using organic products: nuts, cookies and chocolate. I don’t like it to be minimalistic; everywhere nowadays is minimalistic.”

Ditch the starch

Jay Rayner

Restaurant critic for ‘The Observer’


“I’m not massively keen on flowers on a table: they make me feel anxious. I always think I’ll knock them over so the first thing I do is move them out of the way. If you put something on a table it has to have a purpose. But if someone decides to not put salt or pepper on the table, it’s telling me something: there’s a precious person in the kitchen who reckons they’ve nailed the dish to your taste. I’m a big agnostic on the issue of tablecloths. It depends on the room but taking it off doesn’t mean you’ve gone informal. Some restaurants decided they wanted to be more casual but the only thing they took away was the tablecloth. They may have saved on their laundry bill but they were no less starched.”

Dinner is served:
If our respondents’ spirited answers show anything it’s that there’s no stiff rubric for throwing a bash. Our ideal spread consists of a decent Ercol Teramo table and a Foglinen tablecloth can spruce things up with a little texture. Some Skultuna tealights add a nice atmosphere, while simple Figgjo crockery and David Mellor cutlery round-out the flatware. For wineglasses, nothing says Christmas like something subtle and slim-stemmed from Viennese maestro Lobmeyer.

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