Dave Verheul's raw bonito entree and hearty beef ossobuco.
Visual feast: Dave Verheul's raw bonito entree, hearty beef ossobuco, and dried pear parfait. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Ruby Lohman

It starts innocuously enough: ''You simply must come round for dinner.'' And then - WHAT TIME IS IT?! - the bathroom's still filthy, the ''dub-jazz'' playlist is only half done, you've just splashed burnt sauce on your trackie daks, and your mate just texted: ''C u in 5!''

Hosting a dinner party can be exhilarating and unnerving. Do you impress with opulent, highfalutin' ingredients - ''More sea urchin, anyone?'' - or stick to simple home cooking, which often has the most soul?

Dave Verheul of Melbourne's Town Mouse feeds six people for $30.
Dave Verheul of Melbourne's Town Mouse feeds six people for $30. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Good Food asked three top chefs to create a dinner party menu for six people, for less than it costs to fill up your car. The result? Three easy, brilliant menus for $30, $40 and $50. Basic pantry items - such as sugar, onions, soy sauce, rice, oil - were excluded from the total costs. Enjoy.

DAVE VERHEUL: $30 for six people

A clever menu with zesty lemon and raw seafood, the comfort of slow cooking and a visually impressive parfait. Dave Verheul, owner-chef of Melbourne's highly regarded Town Mouse, uses bonito because it's an affordable, sustainable and under-appreciated fish that works beautifully served raw. Shredding the ossobuco rather than serving it as individual portions helps keep costs down, and he also suggests talking to your butcher and suppliers at food markets for the lowdown on lesser-known, economical ingredients.

Dan Hong opts for an Asian-themed menu.
Dan Hong opts for an Asian-themed menu. Photo: Jennifer Soo

Entree: Raw bonito, lemon, sesame and watercress
Main: Beef ossobuco, brown rice, fennel and cavolo nero soup
Dessert: Dried pear and brown sugar parfait

Dave Verheul's shopping list
bonito - $6 ($10 a kilogram)
2 lemons - $0.80 ($0.40 each)
sesame seeds - $1.50
watercress leaves - $2
beef ossobuco - $10 ($10 a kilogram)
carrot - $0.30 ($2 a kilogram)
1 garlic head - $1.48
1 bunch cavolo nero - $3
1 fennel bulb - $1.50
1 bunch parsley - $2
1 packham pear - $0.43 ($2.50 a kilogram)
evaporated milk - $2
TOTAL: $31.01

*Staple pantry items excluded from list: Sesame oil, onion, bay leaves, brown rice, brown sugar, vegetable oil

DAN HONG: $40 for six people

Dan Hong's chilled tofu salad with fried egg and chilli soy dressing; chicken pho; and lychee and ginger granita with pineapple and coconut cream.
Dan Hong's three-course menu. Photo: Jennifer Soo

Dan Hong's Asian-themed menu is full of bold flavours and textures and versatile ingredients. He says composing a menu with a minuscule budget is "challenging but in a good way'' and that ''it really motivates you to be a more creative chef". His tips: "When using protein, secondary cuts are the way to go. Grains, pulses, dried noodles and rice are cheap and great accompaniments because they fill your guests up. And I like to shop in Chinatown because everything is incredibly cheap."

Entree: Chilled silken tofu with a fried egg and chilli soy dressing
Main: Chicken Pho
Dessert: Lychee and ginger granita with pineapple and coconut cream

Dan Hong's shopping list
6 tbsp sugar syrup - $1.26 ($2.59 for 185 grams)
1 pack silken tofu - $2.37
¼ savoy cabbage - $1.49
8 spring onions - $1.69 a half bunch
1 bunch coriander - $2.98
1 chilli - $0.40 ($15.90 a kilogram)
free-range chicken (1.5kg) - $8.99
175g ginger - $2.90 ($1.87 for a 100g piece)
6 free-range eggs - $3.49
rice stick noodles - $1.60
200g beansprouts - $1.75
1 lemon - $0.40
2 tins lychees - $4.58
½⁄ pineapple - $3.99
200ml Kara UHT coconut cream - $4.24
TOTAL $42.13

* Staple pantry items: chilli oil, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce, star anise, onions

Philippa Sibley says the key to keeping costs down is buying seasonal food and serving plenty of good bread.
Philippa Sibley says the key to keeping costs down is buying seasonal food and serving plenty of good bread. Photo: Joe Armao

PHILIPPA SIBLEY: $50 for six people

Sibley celebrates in-season produce with a light and elegant menu. Her soup takes an Italian slant on the classic French sauce Jacqueline (which uses carrot, ginger and cream), with amaretti biscuits providing the gingery hum. A main of roast chicken is conveniently served at room temperature and punched up with bois boudran sauce - a favourite of Sibley's. Her advice to keep costs down is to buy seasonal food, go for quality over quantity and serve it all with great bread.

Entree: Carrot and chervil soup with amaretti
Main: Roasted chicken, braised celery, bois boudran sauce, fingerling potatoes
Dessert: Citrus and passionfruit, mascarpone, lemongrass syrup

Roasted chicken with bois boudran sauce.
Roasted chicken with bois boudran sauce. Photo: New Classics by Philippa Sibley

Philippa's shopping list
1 potato - $0.30 ($3.29 a kilogram)
1 litre chicken stock - $2.50
500ml thickened cream - $1.90 ($0.38 for 100ml)
1 leek - $1.33
500g carrots - $0.99 ($1.98 a kilogram)
1 bunch chervil - $1.69
12 amaretti biscuits - $3.49
1½ bunches celery - $3.98
2 sprigs thyme - $1.69 a bunch
1.2kg chicken - $7.78 ($6.49 a kilogram)
500g kipfler potatoes - $0.89 ($1.69 a kilogram)
chives - $1.69 a bunch
basil leaves - $3.29 a bunch
French shallots - $0.90 ($9.99 a kilogram)
1 pink grapefruit - $1.80
2 blood oranges - $1.06 ($0.53 each)
1 orange - $1.28 (large)
3 mandarins - $1.80 ($0.60 each)
3 passionfruit - $2.97 ($0.99 each)
250g mascarpone - $5.81
1 lime - $0.49
225g butter - $1.99
1 lemongrass stem - $1.10
TOTAL: $50.72

*Staple pantry items: Sugar, salt, white pepper, onion, olive oil, white wine vinegar, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce