It’s the season to be outside as much as possible and naturally we’re not going to want to starve. But will throwing a few sausages on the bbq and opening a couple of beers really tip us over into bliss this summer? Or is it time to freshen up the eating out experience and steal a few ideas from others who (admit it) do everything with a whole lot more élan than we seem to manage most of the time? From long, lazy Sunday lunch on the terrace to the art of aperitif and proper afternoon tea, here are some easy cheats and long term plans to make being outdoors with food a little more meaningful than kitchen roll, charred meat and warm wine.
Setting the scene
Before we look at what and how to eat, let’s think about where. Putting some plastic chairs out on the patio and hoping for the best can work brilliantly, but it leaves too much to chance for our taste. The folks of the world who do eating outside beautifully, have the space all prepped and ready without it seeming that way. The trick is to flow the inside out and one of the simplest ways to do that now is with folding patio doors. The best have slim frames so they almost disappear to create the illusion of a seamless outdoor room. These bi-folds from Vufold are more glass and less door so they’re a good fit whether you’re going for Mediterranean Sunday lunch or LA breakfast brainstorming.
Creating atmosphere (in a good way)
One of the fastest ways to pretty up an outdoor space this summer is to invest in some trailers, climbers and, especially, vines. Vineyards pack plants in, so they clearly don’t demand a lot of space to grow. If you think about it that makes them perfect for containers on the patio. Feeling ambitious and have a patio wall? Put up a lightweight trellis and a vine will cling lovingly to it for years with the right care. The RHS describe growing vines as ‘moderately difficult’. We say, with a bit of sun and a little viticulture know-how, that’s nonsense. But those who like it easiest of all could go for climbing cherry tomatoes or enormous wigwams of runner beans instead. They won’t flourish year-in-year-out, but for instant impact and next to no effort they win hands down. The trick to getting your space lush and lavish, is to group pots to create a sense of abundance and fill the spaces between your big, summery numbers with smaller evergreens as contrast.
Raising the comfort levels
Nobody’s going to linger over lunch or spin out cocktail hour if they’re made to sit on unforgiving, moulded plastic. Cheap stacking chairs are great backup for parties. Put them out for a big, Italian style family meal on the terrace and you might as well go the whole way and serve up sandwiches, to go. You don’t need to spend a lot on garden furniture, most of it’s overpriced anyway and relies on panic buying at the first sign of sun. Scout flea markets for old fashioned wooden chairs, paint them soft greys and greens, add some inexpensive cushions and you’re set. A few outdoor pieces can be a good investment for small, intimate parties, easy going teatime or if you’re keen to get everyone into the idea of civilised aperitif (not Happy Hour). Again, cushions, lots of them, hide a multitude of tatty chair flaws and make everything more alluring and charming – that’s what you want. And if you’re setting the table, keep it natural but do it properly, with a tablecloth, real plates and gleaming glasses.
Simple is always best
About to make a fuss about food? Stop. Chill some Provencal rosé, make a batch of socca and you’ve tied down summer evening aperitif in Vieux Nice, perfectly. Pitcher cocktails, fantastic olives and pretty candles to light the terrace, makes cocktail hour. Hunt down some interesting china plates and tea cups, get baking and set a sweet table on the patio – add a game of croquet for extra authenticity – and traditional afternoon tea is flawlessly done. And if you’re aiming for the full, sit-down, no holds-barred family lunch, informal is best. Go for big bowls of salad, pasta, fresh bread, lots of wine and set a gorgeous table with just the right balance of sun and shade for comfort. And don’t forget to cluster those plants and vines for a true, leafy arbour atmosphere.
So now you know how. Step away from the BBQ and get creative about eating outdoors this summer.