Sunday, 22 July 2012

al fresco dining

Summer's here! Well, for a week at least, according to the last forecast I looked at, so time to make the most of it. One of my very favourite things in the summer is to come home from work and eat dinner out in the garden. In fact, I'll eat every meal outside if I can. There's nothing quite like sitting in a shady spot eating some good simple food with a cold glass of something. Generally, al fresco dining needs no special equipment, I just take what I normally use outside. However, breakages are inevitable, especially on a patio surface and you might want some items that will also work for picnics, so here's my round up of some outdoor dining essentials:

1. Great for balconies and small gardens or for creating a cozy corner in a larger garden, this Solo Bistro set, £59 from John Lewis, is great value. Both the table and chairs fold away for easy storage. Perfect for romantic dinners or somewhere to sit with your morning coffee, or evening beer.
2. This re-useable silver plastic cutlery £1.87 per 3 piece set (plus p&p) from Not On The High Street is so much smarter than your average plastic fork. Lightweight enough to take on a picnic and really beautiful for parties.
3. Plastic plates don't have a great reputation, but this incredibly sophisticated Two Tone Plate from John Lewis is so smart you could use it indoors too. A simple white design with a zesty green back that's perfect for summer dining. At £4 a plate, it's very reasonably priced too.
4. Similarly, why have bog standard plastic cups when you can have these melamine cups for only £2.50 each? Available from Rockett St George they are inspired the classic Duralex design and perfect for kids too, they are unbreakable and dishwasher safe. Available in white, purple, turquoise, pink yellow & green.
5. Need some foodie inspiration? Donna Hay is the resident food writer at LivingETC and these 'fast, fresh, simple' recipes are perfect for making a quick and tasty after work meal. Many of the recipes can be adapted for outdoor cooking too and there are recipes for frittatas, pies and salads that work both at home or on a picnic. £16.99 from good bookstores or Amazon.
6. This is one of the most genius accessories I've seen. The British summer is usually unpredictable so investing in a BBQ might not be top of the list. This clever BBQ stand, £10.50 from The Balcony Gardener, elevates the humble disposable BBQ into a designer delight. It also means you don't have to find room to store charcoal etc and it's compact size is great for balconies.
7. Create some evening atmosphere with these Outdoor Flare Candles, £12 for six from John Lewis. You can stake them in the lawn, flower bed or containers.
8. These simple Lunch Napkins, £3.50 from Emma Bridgewater, are a good all-round choice for outdoor meals.
9. Don't have a garden or balcony? Then head to the park or the beach with this Outwell picnic hamper, £44.99 plus p&p from Camping World. It's more practical than wicker but better looking than a back pack and contains cutlery and glasses for four, which are cleverly stored in side pockets leaving the basket space free for filling with picnic goodies.

If you plan something last minute, don't forget that supermarkets and garden centres can also have some stylish BBQ and picnic ware, and because the summer's been so bad thus far, many are having sales on these sorts of items meaning you could pick up a bargain with your weekly shop. Even if you pack some things in a tote and head to the park in your lunch break, just get out there and enjoy the sun. Don't forget your sunscreen!

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