Whether sitting at a pavement café in Paris with a glass of Bordeaux or stuffing yourself at pop-up eateries serving street food at summer festivals, there is something rather magical about eating outdoors…
Like asparagus, perhaps it’s the shortness of the British outdoor eating season that makes it so sweet.
Of course, for most of us, eating outdoors means popping out onto the bistro set by the conservatory door for a quick snack – and few things beat a barbecue.
Summer should also bring with it a change in the foods we eat, no more stews and cassoulet, soups or Sunday roasts, instead seasonal ingredients lend themselves to a different style of food: lighter, tasty salads, foods suitable for the barbecue or delicious dips and amuse-bouche to eat while sipping a vibrant aperitif. This means we want a vibrant and fun dining style that allows for maximum sociability – think platters of mezze, racks of ribs smothered in barbecue sauce and giant jugs of fruity cocktails. Mmmmm.
When decorating your outside eating area, start from the bottom. Most dining areas sit in the less planted areas – patios and decking areas. Regular readers will know I have already sung the praises of outdoor rugs which cover the patio or deck for an instant splash of colour – try the Catamaran Platinum indoor/outdoor rug (£48 – dashandalberteurope.com) or or lay down a picnic rug or vibrant beach towels to create a similar look.
Garden furniture ranges from wood, to plastic and metal – it’s a case of personal choice, and whether you need to store it over the winter but using concrete in this way is a new one on me. Always try any seating before you buy, as no matter how lovely it looks, you don’t want guests squirming in discomfort while you preside over the barbecue.
Create the perfect kids table – get yourself a classic wooden picnic bench from your local garden centre and have some fun with vibrant tester paint pots – you can always repaint it in more serious colours for the winter.
There’s something about outdoor eating that engenders different tablewear – often of the plastic or acrylic variety (to secure against the dangers of smashed glass) in ice-cream colours and busy patterns. Have some fun with colour – if nothing else it will help you find lost plates after a lively night. If you want to keep the aesthetics a little less vibrant go for old-fashioned enamelware in primary colours (I’m loved up with the range at emodelista.com).
Light it up
I have to say over the years I’ve found the importance of outdoor lighting wane, as I’ve made my way through storm lanterns flickering with candlelight, solar powered spots, plug in fairy lights festooned around the deck and more. By the time the sun sets in the South West, we’ve often moved back indoors as the nights cool. But my vote still goes for storm lanterns – they look equally good unlit during the day.
Not all barbecues are equal
The barbecue is the centrepiece to any outdoor experience. The truth is there are more styles to choose from than there are foods to cook on one. Do you want a woodburing oven that allows for pizza making too – a brick built permanent fixture in your garden (both of these always ready for action when a spot of sunshine breaks through whatever the time of year). Or there’s the gas-fired barbecue that you can wheel out and light up for instant cooking. The charcoal burning kettle on wheels remains our favourite. The experts tell me the most important elements to consider are how many people you need to cater for, how quickly do you want to get it going, how you are going to store it through the long winter months – and can you offer a vegetarian option?