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The best picnic I’ve ever hosted was during lockdown in our communal garden in Little Venice. I set up the space with folding tables which are easy to carry – ideal if you’re hosting in the park. I put them under a tree, threw a linen tablecloth over it and added some vintage champagne buckets and a simple flower arrangement. I also put down a few Persian rugs and cushions so everyone could lie on the grass. I was close to my kitchen, so I served pistachio and ricotta spaghetti followed by roasted seabass with fennel and lemon. My friend Micaela, who’s an incredible baker, brought a banana and chocolate galette.
Prepping as much as you can in advance is key. Some things do need to wait until the day, like adding the tuna mix to a sandwich to avoid soggy bread, but all the chopping, desserts and fruit can be done the day before to save time and energy. You should also invest in things like coolers and thermoses to keep your food and drinks cold.
I always serve feta and watermelon skewers with pickled onions, fresh lime and mint. They’re a little sweet, a little savoury, easy to eat, and can be made in advance. I also love radicchio, so a bitter leaf salad is a must. Mix the radicchio with finely shaved fennel, fresh orange, pecorino or parmesan, and something crunchy like a pistachio nut. I like to serve this with a very simple Dijon vinaigrette and some chopped mint.
Sandwiches and crostini always go down well. I love to serve pea, mint, chilli and ricotta crostini, and tend to go for classic sandwiches made with baguette, like tuna mixed with tabasco, lots of lemon, mayo, capers and green chilli. Add some crunchy lettuce and cucumber for texture, and cut them into bite-sized portions.
Bring lots of lemon and lime to garnish drinks with. And some fresh mint – you can even set up a separate drinks area. I like to serve a St-Germain Hugo Spritz with champagne, prosecco or English sparkling wine. It has just the right amount of sweetness, balanced out with zesty fresh lime and mint – it’s refreshingly elegant and perfect in the sunshine.
Vegetarians and vegans are actually the best guests at a picnic. I like to add something creamy, something crunchy and something spicy to a veg dish to take it to the next level. For example, drizzle a roasted cauliflower salad with a tahini yoghurt and scatter over some fresh herbs, green chilli and roasted nuts for texture.
To save time, opt for shop-bought dips. My favourites are hummus and taramasalata. That said, I love a homemade roasted red pepper dip made with added hazelnuts, anchovies and chilli. Blitz it together and keep it in a cool bag. Serve it with crudités made from celery sticks, pre-chopped carrots and vibrant veggies like radishes, whole baby cucumbers and sliced fennel.
If in doubt, keep it simple with a cheeseboard. I serve no more than three cheeses, including a hard blue, some comté and something a little lighter to balance it out, but I’m not a fan of super soft cheeses at picnics unless they can be protected to stop them melting. I serve this with a sourdough cracker and a charcoal cracker, a jam or chutney, and some dried fruit like dates, apricots or fresh figs.
Your dishes will taste so much better with quality produce. In and around St John’s Wood, I like to buy fruit and veg from Clifton Greens, deli items from Panzer’s, meat from The Ginger Pig and cheese from La Fromagerie. Green Valley is another great spot which sells delicious fresh produce and deli items. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your guests to bring dishes with them. I’m not much of a baker by any means, so it's usually a task I delegate. When in doubt, soft, chewy cookies with cherries and berries always go down well.
I use linen throws rather than picnic blankets as they’re cooler and so easy to throw in the wash. You can find lovely, well priced handmade linens on Etsy. M&S sells great melamine outdoor crockery which is fun and colourful and of course, reusable. Cushions are must too, as is finding an area with some shade or bringing a large umbrella for guests to sit under. There’s nothing worse than sweaty food and hot guests. I like to serve the food on wooden boards which looks more appealing than plates – don’t be afraid to add some bright fruit and veg to your picnic-scape.
Finally, set the vibe with music and create a chilled playlist ahead of time. Make sure your speakers are fully charged and make sure you’re in control of the music – too many DJs can spoil the ambience.
Inspired? Here’s How To Make St-Germain’s Hugo Spritz At Home…
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