It’s the time of year when we Brits prepare to demonstrate our bravery, as we brace ourselves - no matter what the weather throws at us - to dine all fresco.
Ready to battle with the barbecue and wrestle unwieldy picnic tables, folding chairs and wobbly parasols?
You betcha - because nothing will deter us from enjoying that heady combination of good food and fresh air. Indeed, a recent survey by Karcher saw 80% of respondents state they’ll persevere with plans for dining outdoors, regardless of showers or storms.
Nature, of course, may be beyond our control, but there’s no excuse for a shabby table setting, as designers have transformed picnicware - once the poor relation of tableware - with stunning designs that make them suitable for use indoors and outdoors all year round.
So even if the skies let you down, at least make sure your setting is a feast for the eyes
We’ve grilled the foodie experts for their top tips...
Pretty floral patterns in soft shades conjure a country garden look, while bright blooms can evoke a sunny Mediterranean style.
“You can’t beat an al fresco meal in a beautiful country garden. When my husband and I first started living together, I made a feast in our garden and got a violinist to come and play his favourite classical music. It was a pretty special date night,” says Natasha Corrett, 33, creator of the Honestly Healthy foodie website, and author of Honestly Healthy In A Hurry (Hodder & Stoughton, £25).
“I keep food as simple as possible, with dishes such as Middle Eastern sweet potato salad, wild rice citrus and roasted radish salad, and beetroot burgers,” she explains.
As for the settings: “I like a casual, informal look, with cutlery in kilner jars, so people can help themselves. My favourite tablecloth is white, with ‘Healthy’ hand-painted in huge green letters, [£375] from Summerill & Bishop.”
TABLE TREATS: Marks & Spencer has a super range of melamine tableware to suit a traditional country garden tea party. Choose from the flower-scattered Spring Bloom designs, or the delicately patterned pink and white Rosalie collection, with side plates from £6 each. For a romantic occasion, a Spring Bloom 2 Person Wicker Heart Hamper, including plates, wine glasses, cutlery and table accessories, is a steal at £45. Their vibrant Peru melamine floral range is also a real winner: Salad Bowl, £8; Side Plate, £3; Round Tray, £15.
My favourite collection is Collier Campbell’s Flowerdrop melamine range, featuring retro-style blooms on a white and aqua background: Dinner Plate £7; Side Plate, £6, Bowl, £6, Tumbler, £5. And for a luxury touch, consider a Ribbed Leaf Bowl, with matt nickel finish, £33, In-Spaces.
OUT OF THE BLUE
Blues are peaceful colours, conjuring sunny skies, glittering seas and lakes - which will raise cheer even if the weather isn’t co-operating!
“Nature offers what the indoors can’t - natural beauty. I love the combination of water and a lush green landscape, so being beside a lake, an ocean, a river or a pond is my perfect setting for a picnic meal,” says New Zealand-born chef Peter Gordon, author of Savour: Salads For All Seasons (Jacqui Small, £25).
“My most memorable al fresco meal was cooking and eating freshly caught sea-food and summer fruits on a boat jetty at beauty spot and wildlife haven Waterfall Bay, in Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand. Everything was perfect, from the weather to the food; I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
“I favour a rustic look for a table, with a plain white linen tablecloth, candles even during the day, and definitely chairs with backs, even if they’re canvas, because comfort is all.”
TABLE TREATS: Painting walls, fences and furniture in blue shades will set the scene, and Cuprinol’s Garden Shades range includes some beautiful blues, such as Iris and Forget-Me-Not, £23.49 for 2.5L.
Talking Tables makes creating stunning settings easy, and their Coastal collection is well-priced and attractive. A stripe or spot design Bone China Mug, £8.50; Melamine Plate, £5.50, and Paper Lanterns, £10 for pack of three.
House of Fraser’s Linea Home range has an appropriate seaside-inspired Regatta collection, with fish design mugs, bowls and plates, currently on sale (so snap them up fast!) from £2.50 each, House of Fraser. Enjoy a clear horizon with blue Sky Coasters, £16 for set of four, Barnaby & Co.
HOT HOUSE TABLE
Turn up the temperature with a sultry setting, full of lush green foliage and tropical birds.
“I’m hooked on eating outdoors because it feels so liberating not to have four walls around you. My forthcoming wedding will be held in Puglia, Italy, followed by an outdoor banquet,” says Shirin Kouros, who’s co-authored, along with business partner Yasmine Larizadeh, The Good Life Eatery Cookbook (Ebury Press, £20). “We will be in the hilltops, surrounded by olive groves and looking out over the coast. I’ve already had a highly enjoyable tester session with family and friends, so I know it’s going to be perfect.
“The menu will be just like our food - healthy, delicious and featuring dishes from our new book, inspired by a melting pot of cultures, from Mexican to Californian and Iranian.
“My table style is simple. I hate fuss, so sometimes I’ll have just a table runner, otherwise a linen or cotton cloth, lots of fresh flowers in jugs, bowls of fruit, and pretty glassware.”
TABLE TREATS: A rainforest inspired design decorates the La Selva collection of melamine tableware at John Lewis, with items ranging from £2 to £14 each. It includes Placemats, £8 for set of two, and matching Napkins, £12.80 for set of four, in stores and online from June.
Two must-haves from Talking Tables include its Carnival Fiesta Tropical Birds, £11 for pack of six clip-on feathered friends, and pretty artificial Succulent Pots, £40 for set of eight plants.
Oliver Bonas also has exotic table touches, including a Watermelon or Orange & Lemon China Salt & Pepper Set, £12 (available mid-June).
Barnaby & Co: www.barnabyco.com
Collier Campbell: colliercampbell.com
Cuprinol: 0333 222 7171/cuprinol.co.uk
House of Fraser: 0870 160 7270/www.houseoffraser.co.uk
In-Spaces: 07860 773 691/in-spaces.com
John Lewis: 0845 6049 049/www.johnlewis.com
Marks & Spencer: 0333 014 8000 /www.marksandspencer.com
Oliver Bonas: 020 8974 0110/oliverbonas.com
Summerill & Bishop: 020 7229 1337/summerillandbishop.com
Talking Tables: 020 7627 6767/takingtables.co.uk