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Dinner in Reverse

It’s six forty- five AM on Sunday, Sunday early morning, and my first guest has just arrived. He is dressed as stipulated, formally in black tie. I receive him in nothing but a black speedo by way of absurdist contrast. He greets me with a cheeky smile, says hi to the chef and the sommelier. He is poured a cognac which he takes with grace and a nod.1 The others arrive within minutes, all groomed and formally minted. The men exude that confidence of which one dreams. And the ladies, well the ladies! Beautiful, resplendent, fetching. You just want them. You want everybody. Here we are, blinking early on a Sunday morning in our formal best. All’s spic and span. More cognac. Cigars are lit. Welcome to my Reverse Dinner party.

Sweets for the first course

Sweets for the first course

The idea came to me when I heard of the Hysteron Proteron club, an exclusive club at Oxford University in the 1920’s.   Its rich, spoilt young darlings lived one day a month in reverse, including taking meals and their courses in reverse order.2,3,4 Seven AM on a Sunday morning and it’s buzzing in my patio. Fresh smiles all around, no rheumy eyes here. The cognac flows, as does the malt. You don’t want to be anywhere else, life is good.

Host Cook Sommelier

Host Cook Sommelier – Reception Committee

Digestifs on the patio - 7AM

Digestifs on the patio – 7AM

But how will your system react to a meal served in reverse order? After all, the order in which courses are served at a dinner has a logic behind it that transcends custom. Chefs have sweated to establish the order of courses to square with maximal human enjoyment. And here we’re inverting established order. Consider this: A digestif like cognac is meant to do exactly that i.e. aid with the digestion of your meal, not flame your empty stomach in preparation for it. Also, the sugar rush from dessert at the beginning of a meal might suppress the appetite early on, not to mention contort the taste buds for the main course afterwards. The etymology of “dessert”, French in origin, means to “un-lay” the table, to end the service. We were to have dessert at a fully laid table. Fish on top of the meat? Light after heavy? And the ensemble to be annointed by soup? All this squared off by champagne, an aperitif meant to give one appetite, not round off a meal… Oh dear, it was going to be very new to all of us.

Karoo Game Wellington

Karoo Game Wellington

The chef brings a board of French cheeses to the patio. The cheeses consolidate the cognac. It’s getting noisy and jolly.5 I exchange my speedo for black tie. At 8AM we’re gonged into the dining room. The cutlery is of course lain in reverse order around the plate. Special candles that actually get longer as the dinner wears on shine from polished candelabra, adding a glow to the morning light filtering through the blinds.6 We settle in cozily and prepare for the serving of dessert. Panna cotta served in a tart coulis. Excellent inspiration from the chef. No sugar rush here, just something to ease oneself into the meal. The guests savour their dessert in low appreciative groans, which satisfies the chef no end. First Reverse Dinner party tip: choose your dessert carefully.

In keeping with the reverse theme, a guest plays music he has recorded in reverse and we’re asked to recognize the tracks. He made it easy and they’re strangely recognizable: Beethoven’s Fifth, Mozart’s 40th, Carl Orf’s ‘O Fortuna’ from Carmina Burana. Bizarre though! We then take a break for the main course. Onto the deck for drinks. The pianist arrives and opens with a 1940’s honky-tonk styled syncopated number. Life is good. Sunglasses out under the umbrella. One or two are looking decidedly cool. Malt whisky, yes. The chef calls for mains. Karoo Game Wellington. Game fillets wrapped in pancetta with a specially prepared mushroom pate, rolled and wrapped in pastry. For this we haul out a 2006 High Constantia Cabernet Franc, wood matured for 36 months. I must say…

A Dinner Dance at 8AM?

A Dinner Dance at 9-30 AM?

It’s getting jollier and we’re getting stronger. That’s the surprising difference from evening dinner parties –strength grows in the morning but flags in the evening. One’s appetite also keeps on growing with each course instead of waning. It’s satisfaction without satiation, excellent. The piano sings. Another break to the deck. Second tip: Take long breaks between courses and after a while you forget the course order. There’ll also be less pressure on the chef. The world’s brighter now and the drink is starting to stir in one or two of us. Banter and chatter. The fish starter is called, for which we were perfectly primed. Sushi quality export smoked trout brought by one of the guests. These are reared in lakes in the Lesotho Highlands and are exported to Japan. It’s pronounced darned exquisite by some. I concur. A Semillon with a bit of age on it proved the perfect pairing. The din rises and piano sings and people beam, their cheeks have taken on a shine and their eyes are glazed…

On the Deck Between Courses

On the Deck Between Courses

Time for the soup course. Tomato soup. Now there’s Tomato soup and there’s tomato soup. This is Tomato soup. It took two days to prepare. Ah! Someone dapper is already aiming for the champagne. The aperitif. Tomato soup and champagne? Works for some. A match made on earth. Still, all’s good. Some of the guests in their dangerous twenties and thirties start showing contours of inebriation, but who am I to judge? And then the champagne really flowed, we seemed to have needed the aperitif, we needed life-affirmation!

Laughing, not Praying

Laughing, not Praying

From then on things really got jolly, for which I can give you tip No. 3: Just as the arrival time for a normal dinner may be stipulated as say 7-30 for 8PM, be sensible and have a cut-off time of 2-00 for 2:30PM. Otherwise it can really get altogether too jolly. Apart from that, give it a bash. It was my best dinner party ever, and I’ve been known to have thrown a few.



  1. It must be said that it seemed as though, for one or two of the guests, a tipple at 06H45 didn’t seem at all unusual… ducks to cognac!
  2. Hysteron Proteron club members would dress up formally for dinner in the morning, have their dinner at breakfast time, but crucially had the courses in reverse order. Thus, they started the day in black tie with digestifs like cognac and port, then proceeded to the cheese board, dessert, main course, starter, soup and ended with an aperitif like champagne along with canapés. They then dressed down for afternoon tea and lunch and ended the day in pajamas having bacon and eggs for dinner. To this day the Saville Club in London holds the occasional reverse dinner, but in the evening.
  3. See http://www.inter-club.co.uk/?p=885 for a description of a Reverse dinner, albeit at night…
  4. The menu at Zibaldone restaurant in Tygervalley encourages one to choose one’s dessert first and lists it as such on the menu, because “life is short”, but they don’t serve the dessert first.
  5. You’d better have excellent neighbours if you’re planning to do this. I do.
  6. They kept time with the counter-clockwise clocks…