For what has been a bizarre year and an unexpected start to a new decade, I think we can all agree that summer has been long and beautiful. We still have a few weeks before the evenings draw in earlier, the temperature begins to fall and has us reaching for cosy knitwear, so we need to make the most of it.
No matter how large or small your outside space is, there is always a way to have a beautiful al fresco meal. It all comes down to thinking creatively, and here I have some ideas to inspire you to get started and build your own.
To celebrate the gorgeous weather, I have been exploring the range of tableware at Elys which lends itself perfectly to outdoor dining. In the collection of homeware on the Third Floor there are a couple of beautiful sets in particular that I thought were ideal for a summer feast and chose these to create two entirely different tablescape styles - the bright and colourful and geometric range from Rice and the sea-life inspired illustration range from Rose and Tulipani.
To elevate these tables from an everyday picnic look to something a little more special, I used books and pieces of wood to make a low level table that my guests and I could sit up at while still be surrounded by blankets and cushions, which were positioned on the ground (for that comfy factor!).
First up, the bright and colourful picnic-ware from Rice (all pieces are available in-store).
I adore this table so much. It’s a mix of pastel colours which contrast with the strong, darker tones to stand out. It flows really beautifully and I had great fun planning out how to use these pieces and build up the table.
I started laying this table by adding a soft light blue denim style fabric runner. As the pieces were all bright I wanted a back drop in a muted hue so the picnic-ware could really pop.
I love the new style which has been taking over Pinterest for dining tables; where napkins hang off the table to visually overemphasise the layers and heights of the items. To continue the pastel colours, without being identical to the Rice set tones, I picked pastel pink napkins which draped down off the table. If you’re thinking of creating this, my tip would be to keep them secure and in place using a stack of the different sized bowls.
Speaking of bowls, stacking them for tables, especially for tapas and grazing meals are, for me, an absolute must. It means diners can have a bowl for a different part of the meal without the need of the host having to clear away the first round to allow for the next. This way you can use one, then put it to the side, meaning you can stay in the moment and enjoy your family and friends’ company.
When it comes to larger sittings, I would recommend using a big charcuterie platter, as I have here, for freshly made garlic bread and - a huge summer favourite in my house - Pimm’s salad with a zesty citrus dressing. For the rest of the food, I used the large pastel bowls which were the perfect size to have enough food for a spoonful or two for each person.
Here are three easy salads I created for this al fresco feast. These are all quick to make and I guarantee will be a hit with your guests.
Simple but spicy fruit salad - made with melon, avocado, coriander and fresh chilli with a squeeze of fresh lime on top.
Mediterranean inspired salad - parma ham, mozzarella and peaches, with a drizzle of lemon juice and olive oil on top.
Mouthwatering salad - combine watermelon, cucumber, mint and feta cheese.
For drinks, I used the dark green glasses to match the bowls - which I filled with wine. The Rice range also includes a set of six smaller glasses which I placed on the table to serve water - a must to prevent dehydration on a hot day!
If you have extra glasses why not use them to create a small decorative centre-piece for the table? Simply place a few flowers (I picked some from my garden) in the glasses and add extra foliage to the napkins, so each place setting is dressed. To break up the height of the table, I added a few stems of dried daisies that I had been saving. These were a little taller than the fresh purple flowers so the height variation worked well and gave the table a lovely finish combined with the other elements.
Yes, there are a lot of items on the table, but following a simple design keeps it looking airy rather than being impractical when you’re ready to start eating.
Fish you were here
My sophisticated sea theme table is intentionally very neutral to really draw the eye to the Rose and Tulipani dinnerware which is decorated with illustrations of fishes, sea flora and fauna. As the design is so unique, my challenge was to work out how to use them on the table without covering the patterns with food. As we ate, it was nice to see the design emerge out from under the food - which actually made the table at the end of the meal look as interesting as it did before we started.
The collection is made up of plates (some fish-shaped), oval bowls (which I love!) in various sizes, a large serving platter. Together they work really well, but equally have a wow factor when using individual pieces.
For my al fresco affair, we used the giant bowl as a chilling bucket, filling it with heaps of ice before nestling a bottle of Prosecco in the centre. When we are able to have larger gatherings, I would love to try filling the bowl with nibbles - I will have to get my thinking hat on to think of ways to present that!
If you have a giant plate that you want to incorporate into your outdoor dining table without it looking too overwhelming, I would recommend creating a sharing platter. My favourites to include here are:
- A selection of dips, including hummus and guacamole
- Tortilla - cut into pieces and toasted under the grill. Once toasted, they are sightly crispy and strong enough to scoop your dips.
I carried the design of the dinnerware into my recipes and created fish tacos with a fresh hot salsa which I served on the fish-shaped plates. The slightly raised part of the bowl had a small section in the tail which was perfect for holding the lime slices. If you were serving sushi this would be a great place for the soy sauce. The next time I use this collection, I plan to cook a large plate of seafood linguine with crusty home-made bread to serve. I think it will be wonderful.
Sisley’s side dish recipes
Lime and coriander rice (medium plate): simply cook the rice as normal, add chopped coriander and good squeeze of fresh lime juice.
Garlic butter aspargus and tender stem broccoli (medium plate): Cook the vegetables in a hot grill pan - this makes for a super-healthy side.
For drinks, I used gorgeous glasses from La Rochere crafted from thick glass with a bee emblem around the top. They have a weight to them which feels sturdy and tangible, the the shape gives the table real elegance.
Sisley’s Craft Tip
To give the table a stamp of individuality, I created a little craft idea for the cutlery which is quick to do, so you can easily make your own. When they are spotted by my guests on the table get a lot of attention and more often than not end up on Instagram!
What you need
- A piece of fresh eucalyptus, approximately a 30cm length
- Lay the eucalyptus over the cutlery so you can see the leaves at the front. Wrap the stem around the cutlery and gently tie it into a knot. Be sure to use the cut end so you do not damage the leaves. You may find it a bit a fiddly to begin with, but you will soon get into a rhythm, I promise!
- Place on the table and admire your quick craft that adds a nature aspect to your table.
So, there you have it, two totally different tablescapes (and some recipe tips) to host the perfect al fresco meal. If you’re planning to host family and friends, some other pieces available at Elys that I would recommend to invest in to take outdoor dining to the next level include blankets and soft chunky cushions which would be perfect to lounge on. It’s also worth exploring the glassware space; I adore the LSA champagne glasses and the tall bee glasses from La Rochere which are perfect for cocktails.
Remember to share your outdoor table creations with us on Instagram - we’d love to see your creative interpretations.