Manifesto: How to entertain with style

By Andrew Glenn

Mark Wallbank of Ponsonby's much-lauded restaurants Moo Chow Chow and Blue Breeze Inn. Photo / Babiche Martens
Mark Wallbank of Ponsonby's much-lauded restaurants Moo Chow Chow and Blue Breeze Inn. Photo / Babiche Martens

A fun-loving bon vivant, restaurateur, and host-with-the-most, Mark Wallbank cuts a cool Hawaiian-shirted swathe through his restaurants Moo Chow Chow and The Blue Breeze Inn, treating customers as though they are friends in the living room of his home. Here Mark shares his tips on how to entertain with style.

Every good party has a great host. What makes a great one?
Someone who is attuned to people's needs - whether it be food, drink, music, or putting soap and a candle in the toilet - someone who does a bit of planning and, most importantly, someone who cares.

What's the most important ingredient of a party - venue, music, food and wine, host or guest?
Along with a great vibe, a combination of all of the above - not one element works in isolation but I would consider the people to be pivotal to good times - they add the soul and heart that can make fish and chips and a plastic cup of beer on the beach the best night out ever!

What is the most memorable party you have hosted?
God there have been so many - but I loved my 40th birthday party (a few weeks ago) - a glam booze bus and mystery locations; keep them guessing is key.

What is the most memorable party you have attended?
No comment - I wouldn't be invited to any more if I answered this!

The least?
As above.

Where have you not hosted a party but would like to?
I'd love to do a yacht party - I'm thinking something huge, not a dinghy.

Beyond being a host you have brought together people from all over the world at your restaurants - are you proud of what you have achieved?
I'm always proud of our achievements and always excited about what comes next. Hosting is a passion and very satisfying.

Who would you invite to the ultimate dinner party?
I try to make each of my dinner parties the ultimate for guests. The trick is the combination of people - variety, but not disparity.

Best dinner guest?
The one who brings a great bottle of wine.

Worst dinner guest?
Dull is never a good look at a dinner party.

What do to with a drunk guest?
Get them to dance it off.

Invitations: electronic or printed, or just phone?
I love a printed invitation - the more effort you put into the invitation the more effort people will put into attending and making sure they are in top form for your event. But for smaller events a quick email or phone call will suffice.

Smythson, Wren Press, something else?
Office printer!

Theme parties - cool or passe?
Nothing like a toga to break the ice on arrival. I love a theme party - it brings everyone together and is a guarantee of a good laugh for all involved. I recently had a "pirate and gypsy" themed birthday in Rarotonga for six people and it was loads of fun.

Best food to serve at a party?
Bite-sized tasty morsels served regularly to soak up the booze.

Best florist?
I do my own - keep it simple with the bright and beautiful.

Best music?
Music should be a mix of modern and nostalgic. Nostalgic and alcohol work well together.

Couples - together or separate?
Separate - distance makes the heart grow fonder.

"Boy, girl, boy, girl"?
Whatever floats your boat - or theirs - bit of boy on boy never hurt anyone.

Long tables or round?
I love a long table as it gives a chance for separate conversations to evolve. At a round table you are sometimes limited to just one conversation and that's bad news if it's boring or something you are not interested in. Still, intimate round tables for groups of great friends can make for a fantastic night.

Ideal centrepiece?
Something that does not get in the way of service or conversation. Never block the flow - big and fabulous does not always work.

Best venue?
We are blessed in Auckland with amazing venues but fill any place with the right people and you'll have a terrific party.

Worst venue?
A room too small for dancing.

Off the peg or Savile Row?
Hawaiian shirt - with a label.

What to wear to 'black tie'?
Black tie. We men have it easy.

Single button or double-breasted tux?
Single button for me, but double-breasted can look great, too. Work out your look and wear it with confidence.

Do you tie your own black tie?
Depends on what stage of the night I have to tie or re-tie it. First time, definitely. Late at night, unlikely.

* Look for the Viva party special in Wednesday's newspaper, or download the Viva iPad app, free now at


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