It was billed as the “showstopper” dinner – and it didn’t disappoint. Last month, Timothy Oulton began his campaign to revive the ancient art of hosting not so much with a bang, as a firecracker of flair and piquancy in Gaoming city, southern China.
If first impressions are anything to go by, this dinner party was a winner before any of the guests had even sat down. As the doors of the industrial elevator whined open on the fourth floor of the warehouse, breath was sucked in and smartphones yanked out in equal measure. The vision before us – a 100ft long marble table groaning under a burden of lobsters, oysters, champagne and no less than 30,000 red roses – looked more suited to a movie set or a book of illustrated fairytales than the middle of Southern China. This dinner party had been 12 months in the making – and it showed.
After everyone was seated, the relentless flood of fresh seafood began – Dutch blue mussels, sea crabs, tiger shrimps and Oscietra caviar all floated past, served with silver tongs from an ingenious ice trench down the centre of the table. In pools of light under Venetian chandeliers, the mood was hearty and companionable, as style and interior design aficionados from across the globe become acquainted and reacquainted. Warm and inclusive, everyone had one significant thing in common – mutual wonderment at the lavish attention to detail in the setting we were all sharing. Champagne flutes magically replenished themselves as the wheels of conversation whirred – and lithe bowler hatted servers flitted like moths around the diners. To say the table was stunning would be an understatement akin to describing Shanghai as a city; it bonded all of those seated around it by sheer weight of magnetic beauty.
An unadulterated Mancunian, Tim Oulton prides himself in his Britishness – a theme evident in a career as littered with Union Jacks as industry awards. It was no surprise, then, that there were numerous nods to his homeland throughout the dinner – from the wonderful bread and butter pudding on the dessert menu to the vintage Charles and Diana royal wedding ashtrays on the bar at the after party.
Ah yes, the after party. With the evening moving into new territory – a stylish cocktail lounge set up in an adjacent room – Tim himself led the charge in the unflinching manner of the English greats adorning the walls. Portraits of Henry VIII, Winston Churchill and Alfred the Great gazed down in silent approval as cocktails were served, cigars lit and bonds forged in an atmosphere best described as clamorous convivial chic. When the dancing on the tables began, it was no surprise who was leading the charge either.
Traditionally, there’s one simple rule to hosting in China: bigger is better. From that perspective, Tim Oulton knocked it so far out of the park with this dinner in Gaoming that the ball may yet be discovered on the other side of a broken window back in his native England. In terms of his mission to revive the ancient art of hosting, this was a serious statement of intent.