Beauty on a Plate

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Dining out – or in – for New Year’s Eve? Award winning supper club hostess, chef and food writer Kerstin Rodgers knows everything about looking fabulous while chowing down.


What to wear, slap-wise, for a dinner party? I give dinner parties for a living with my supper club The Underground Restaurant, which I started five years ago. As the chef and hostess, it’s important that I look good and stand out. I ask my guests to dress up too, for it’s a lovely opportunity for the ladies (and men) to haul out their best threads, accessories, jewellery and of course, make-up and make an occasion of it. Over the years, I’ve picked up a few tricks to making the perfect impression on a dinner party.


Hostesses – Be Prepared

When prepping for a supper club, I put on my make-up as soon as I wake up. Yes, it might be slightly smeared by the time guests arrive but at least you aren’t caught out, barefaced in your nightie, trying to finish off the canapés as people walk in. This has happened. So get ready early just in case you don’t have time to wash and reapply later. Especially if you are a foodie, because chances are, your look will end up being the casualty rather than the food.

Screen Shot 2013-12-30 at 10.21.16I know that beauty world convention says one should do an eye or a lip, but as a self-confessed maximalist, I’m afraid I do both. For me, make-up is about colour and glitz. I don’t want to hide. Fanny Cradock is my cosmetics icon, and I’m sure she’d approve of the Max Factor lime green eyeshadow I bought this summer.


The Table

When setting a table, if candles are the only source of lighting, have one candle per person for the most flattering light – for instance, a candelabra with 4 branches is good for four guests. Keep the candles tall. You don’t want your guests to look like something from a horror show. In the old days, when they only had candles rather than electric light, it was a point of honour and of kindness to the mature lady guests to have new ‘tall’ candles rather than burnt ‘low’ candles.



Your face needs to stand out in dim lighting. Smoothing moonlit-pale highlighter with a hint of shine onto your cheek and brow bones will light up the room during party season. In summer, a smattering of Laura Mercier Illuminating Tinted Moisturiser should be sufficient.


Go Big On Eyes

Screen Shot 2013-12-30 at 10.21.03You want smouldering, smoky eyes and big lashes – they scream good times. Wear plenty of mascara, Maybelline’s Great Lash is a classic model’s handbag standby. If you have good lashes, curl them to ensure they stand out in dim light. I’m a fan of false eyelashes, perhaps not on a Carol Channing* drag queen scale but they are a pleasing aid to across-table flirtation. Katy Perry and Cheryl Cole’s from the Girls Aloud range are prominent but not extreme. Make sure the glue works (Mac is the best) and that they’re trimmed to the length of your eyelids – you don’t want that Fenella Fielding wonky straying eyelash look.

Screen Shot 2013-12-30 at 10.20.55Along with the dark smould (Benefit Smokin Eyes  is a great kit), I wear a little sparkle. A dab of Chanel glittery gold eyeshadow in the centre of the eyelid or at the inner corner provides focus, picking up on the warmth of the candlelight.


Long Lasting Lips

Matte lipstick is best because longevity is a must at dinner. As you’re eating and drinking, avoid sticky glosses – they will move and mingle against your will. Also think of your host’s laundry – lipstick can be difficult to remove from napkins, though usefully, a bright hue can help you easily find your wine glass once you’ve put it down.

I’m on a constant lookout for the perfect matte. I have yellow skin and so prefer slightly blue reds and pinks to make make my teeth look white. I once had a vintage 1950s lipstick that I bought in a shop in Portobello Road. It stayed on for days and umpteen courses. I loved it. But some cow nicked it at a nightclub in the toilets, and ever since, I’ve been trying to reproduce it’s blue-ish, pink-ish perfection with little success. MAC can be good. I loved their Archie’s Girls collection – the Veronica lipstick in Ronnie Red came very close to that vintage shade and texture but it was a limited run and now sells at triple the price on eBay. So, failing that, use lip stain or lip pencil.

For longevity, do put on several layers of lipstick and blot between each application. Lipcote is useful, if somewhat unpalatable in taste.



Public Displays of Grooming

While you could make use of the shiny cutlery to check your lipstick, reapplying make-up at table is decidedly non-U. A chic and coquettish exception may be discreetly flipping out a beautiful compact and dusting your nose between courses. Any more than that, and it’s probably best to visit the bathroom.



A good hostess keeps a well stocked loo. In the early days of my supper club I noticed that the box of ear buds in my bathroom was emptying rapidly. I soon realised that the guests were helping themselves to a bit of an ear clean. Now I think all restaurants should provide cotton buds as it’s clearly a service that is appreciated.



People in many Asian cultures manage to use toothpicks (sometimes beautifully carved ones) rather elegantly, with a tactful hand in front of their mouths, at the table. They can get away with it but I’m not sure the rest of us can without looking uncouth.


Wet Towels

You know those little wet towels you get in some Indian restaurants or posh restaurants? Only use them for your hands. My dad ends up doing a bit of a strip wash at the table, doing behind the ears and neck. NO.



To avoid staining their teeth, many women drink only white wine and champagne. However, one can take this looking good at a dinner party thing too far. Most people would rather a guest with a red wine moustache, shiny nose and smudged mascara who properly enjoyed their dinner and had a damn good time, than someone who couldn’t relax for fear of looking imperfect.



*Carol Channing was such a false eyelash addict that she had a separate suitcase when travelling, just for her fake lashes. Eventually she started to lose the skin of her eyelids. Her doctor banned her from using them but she wouldn’t stop.



Kerstin Rodgers, aka MsMarmitelover, is a chef, author, photographer and food and travel blogger. She won the Guild of Food Writer’s Food blogger of the year ( award in 2013. In 2011, her first book ‘Supper Club: Recipes and Notes From The Underground Restaurant’ was published by Harper Collins. She is the pioneer of the underground restaurant/supper club/pop up movement in the UK.

Starting out as a teenage photographer at New Musical Express, Kerstin’s photographs have been widely published with exhibitions in London and Paris. The hit song ‘My Girl’s Mad at Me’ by Madness was written about her. She is currently writing a book ‘Secret Teas’ out in 2014.


She tweets via @msmarmitelover and blogs at To book tickets for The Underground Restaurant, visit Kerstin’s book, Supper Club: Recipes and Notes From The Underground Restaurant, is out now:


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