Here’s an unexpected recipe for the best party food ever: street food meets retro ‘70s classics.
“Take something that everyone loves,” says Melbourne chef Adrian Richardson, and then double-down. Put a twist on it to make it twice as good. Case in point: his cheeseburger spring rolls, and grown-up chocolate crackles.
Richardson knows a lot about feeding hungry people what he calls “bite-sized morsels of deliciousness”. Owner and head chef at the enduringly popular La Luna Bistro in inner city Carlton (it’s been humming along since 1999), two years ago he opened Bouvier, a bar and grill in nearby Brunswick. Between the bar menu and the business’s catering arm Richardson spends plenty of time thinking about bar snacks and party food – so the hardest thing about his latest TV series, Richo’s Bar Snacks, was not coming up with recipe ideas, but narrowing down the list.
While a raspberry version of the classic chocolate ripple cake didn’t make the cut (dang it - we rather liked the sound of that one!), plenty of fun mash-ups and twists did: slow-cooked pork doughnuts, bacon-wrapped onion rings, a mac and cheese toastie, kim chi hotdogs, bocconcini-stuffed falafel (because who doesn’t love cheese and falafel?).
So what are the secrets to party food that everyone will love? We chatted to Richardson ahead of the start of the new show to get his top tips for throwing a great party.
These days, he says, people are moving away from sit-down dinners and embracing stand-up parties where you can mix, mingle and move on – and that means lots of fun party snack food.
Embrace the ‘70s and ‘80s
The past is a goldmine for party inspiration, Richardson says. “Take some of the stuff from the ‘70s and ‘80s, that’s when they did a lot of this [kind of] entertaining. Have a look at some of that stuff, do a little bit of research with some old Women's Weekly recipes and ideas, and then just put a modern twist on it. You can really have fun with this stuff.”
“When you're putting a party menu together, you want to make them feel nice and warm and cosy - like an old friend showing up.” An old friend doing something unexpected, perhaps: like the slug of whisky in Richardson’s take on the good old chocolate crackle.
Street food, too, can make great party food, and inspire some fun mashups. Where, we asked, did the idea for his cheese burger spring rolls, which feature in episode 2, come from?
“That came from a food truck event I did in Malaysia, designed to be eaten easily and blend two of my favourite things, spring rolls and burgers.
“Street food is definitely an influence on Richo’s Bar Food. I’ve eaten street food all over the world, it is designed to eat on the run and quickly, making it the perfect fit for bar food.”
Deep-fried is delicious
“I have to warn you, if you have one of them, you’re going to want another one straight away. They’re evil!”
Richardson is talking about his pork belly doughnut, a deep-fried, cinnamon-sprinkled invention that defiantly straddles the savoury-sweet divide.
“I've cooked pork, nice Korean spicy pork, and I've made a doughnut mix and what I've done is …put the pork on the inside, nice and spicy and sweet, and then deep-fried them. And as we know anything deep-fried is going to be delicious, isn't it?
You, and your party.
“You don't want to be running around with curlers in your hair as people are coming in the door, so always be ready a half an hour before anyone gets there. Have everything ready to go so that when they come in, they've got food at the start and drinks at the start,” Richardson says.
“It's always a good idea, if you can, to get a couple of people, pay them a bit of money, and they can keep the place nice and clean [and help with food].
“Keep it simple. Do as much preparation as you can beforehand, so that it's a matter of heat and serve, or garnish and serve. That would be one of my most important things, if you're there to entertain your guests, you don't want to be stuck in the kitchen. Unless your entertaining area is the kitchen, and then it's a good idea to have a lot of things pre-prepared so you're finishing them off beautifully and serving them.”
Balance out the booze
“One of the things that I think is important, especially when you are drinking cocktails, is that they are quite strong, so always make sure there is plenty of food on hand to take the edge off the booze. And you can always mix it up with some very light cocktails as well. Not everything has to have three shots. You can add a little bit of fruit juice, or little bit more of the mixers, and that helps to cut it as well.”
Make it easy to eat
“A big night out is all about bite-size morsels of deliciousness. Something you can pick up with one hand, leaving the other hand free to pick up a nice, cold, refreshing beverage,” Richardson says in the show.
Most of the snacks he cooks up on screen fit that bill, but there are also heartier items, because some people will eat bar food for dinner. It’s true for parties, too.
So if you’re having a stand-up gathering, oysters, sushi, little pizzas and spiced nuts fit the bill. If you’ve invited a bunch of mates over to watch a grand final or a show’s gripping final ep, those pork belly doughnuts or his kim chi hotdogs would be spot-on.
Serve sweet and savoury
“In a bar, you're having something to drink. Some of the drinks you're having are sweet, some are savory, and the great thing with a bar is to be able to have different things and mix it up. You don't need to be bound by entrée, main, dessert; if you feel like a little something sweet, you have a little sweet snack.
“You never know what stage people are when they come to your bar. They could be at the start of their night on the way to dinner, they could be halfway through dinner, they could be at the end of their night when they're coming in for an espresso martini and something sweet.”
The same, he says, is true for parties.
So consider putting Richo’s rocky road, or his crème brulee shooters, on your menu.
Above all, have fun
A party is meant to be fun. Dip a rice crispy treat in chocolate and coat it in hundreds and thousands. Put a surprise inside that Middle Eastern classic, the falafel. “There is nothing better than a surprise and what better surprise than a gooey, cheesy centre?” Richo says, when we ask him what inspired this idea, which features in the first episode. “The bocconcini works beautifully with the nutty flavour of the falafel. And you could tweak it with any cheese filling.”
Or embrace Richardson’s passion for bacon.
“I found the eighth wonder of the world. It's bacon. It's also the sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth food group. Bacon is the thing that makes everything taste good in the kitchen. We call it the duct tape for the kitchen,” he says, introducing his crispy bacon with espresso coffee, maple syrup and bourbon. Not from the ‘70s, not street food, but a whole pile of fun and, he says, one of those things that disappears in a flash. So while it goes with many things, “the best thing is to eat it straight away”. Try to keep some for the party guests, though, eh?
Richo's Bar Snacks premieres on Monday 19 November at 5pm. The series airs weeknights at 5pm on SBS Food (Channel 33). After they air, episodes will stream at SBS On Demand.