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Perfectly Imperfect Ideas for Dining Al Fresco At Home

 

When that first warm breeze of spring caresses your skin, it becomes nearly impossible to remain indoors. With warmer days and brighter evenings around the corner, alfresco dining with friends, and conversations that carry on into the spring night are definitely in order. There is something special, intimate, and freeing about eating in the great outdoors. And after the cooler months, it’s time to emerge from our cocoons, dust off those linen tablecloths and comfy floor cushions, and get to work on creating wondrous spring alfresco dining experiences.

What is alfresco dining?

The term “al fresco” is borrowed from the Italian for “in the cool air”, and refers to dining outdoors. This can be anything from a long, elegant table surrounded by trees strung with fairy lights, to a picnic blanket thrown haphazardly on the grass at the park as the buds are bursting on the trees around you. The perfect way to get back to nature, and the ideal setting for a reunion with friends, dining al fresco is the ultimate way to bring mood and atmosphere to any special meal.  

How To Set Your Alfresco Table (or Picnic Rug or Park Bench) 

The key to creating an impressive alfresco dining experience is bringing your surroundings to the table. Eating outdoors should be rustic, messy, full of laughter and your most delightful stories. Whether you are picnicking in the park or on your apartment balcony overlooking the city, your surroundings are the hero element of your get-together.  

While alfresco is all about the outdoors and spontaneous moments on dazzling spring days, it doesn’t mean you need to compromise on the finer touches that make indoor gatherings feel polished. To create the perfect informal atmosphere feel free to still pull out your most treasured tableware, but get creative with the setting; from the traditional dinner table, to picnic rugs in a park and outdoor furniture at the bottom of the garden. Go with what looks cosy and welcoming by mixing and matching your cutlery, crockery, glassware, and linens to suit each individual friend who’ll be using them. Focus on pulling items from your colours which feature earthy tones and rustic patterns, like Royal Doulton’s Maze Grill Mixed Pattern White Side Plates, paired with mismatched linen napkins in neutral tones. You can even swap out glassware for mugs (such as the Olio White Mug by Barber Osgerby) bringing a truly intimate, casual feeling to your alfresco meal. Accenting your table or picnic rug with fresh greenery, like a bright green spray of leaves from a nearby elm tree or a structural branch, your outdoor setting will feel incredibly unique and special. 

Alfresco Meals Made for Spring

Alfresco dining is all about those unexpected moments you share with friends and family, and less about precision and perfection. When an afternoon coffee and play date leads into an evening catch up, with the kids enjoying the warmth outside and the thought of opening a bottle of wine crossing the parents’ minds, it’s time to prepare for an impromptu outdoor meal. These gatherings should be wild and free, and ideally pre-made so you can lay them out and share them, family-style. Some simple dishes to whip together with just cupboard staples (which are still delicious and give you time to chat to your closest companions) include:

  • Antipasto platters featuring tinned items like dolmades, whatever cheeses you have in the fridge, a sweet jam to complement the cheese and pickled anything. Try to choose foods full of bold colours and sweet, salty and piquant flavours
  • Tapas-style dishes like grilled halloumi, bowls of olives and mushrooms and Spanish omelettes, easily whipped together with eggs and potato you have stashed in the cupboard 
  • Plates of toasted, quartered sandwiches. These are simple and fun finger food, made special by being arranged beautifully on your favourite plate or serving platter 
  • Drinks shared from overflowing pitchers, like juice squeezed from whatever is in your fruit bowl, a pitcher of sangria and sparkling water packed with cucumber and mint 
  • Any easy to eat cuts of meat that might be in your freezer and can be heated in the oven, like lamb cutlets or meat skewers 
  • Colourful plates of Crudités (a range of raw and crisp vegetables like cherry tomatoes, snow peas and carrots) along with any and all dips you can put together; from a tub of cream cheese to a tin of chickpeas blitzed in a blender with some tahini, lemon and garlic for your own homemade hummus 
  • Nothing is as festive and easy to prepare as crisps and salsa. Unscrew the jar, pour the chips into a bowl and you’re done 
  • A dessert platter made from beautifully cut up fruit, along with any nuts and chocolate you have on hand can be as elegant and enjoyable as the fanciest plate of tarts and cakes 

Alfresco Tips To Enhance Your Outdoor Dining Experience 

While there is no right or wrong when it comes to how you prepare an impromptu alfresco meal for friends, there are some simple things you can do to truly elevate the experience. 

  • You don’t have to be sitting at a dinner table. Experiment with a range of settings from a patchwork of picnic blankets strewn on a patio, to huge fluffy cushions for sitting on the ground surrounding a low table, the only rule is ensuring your friends and family are comfortable and that everyone has a place to sit. 
  • Incorporate elements of your surrounding into your table setting. If you’re by the beach, why not use some elegant found driftwood as a table setting? Or a bouquet of foraged grasses if you are having an alfresco picnic in a field. Natural elements will bring a rustic and authentic feel to your alfresco dining experience. 
  • Lighting is an important element of your meal. Spring means we can finally dine outside, but unforgettable meals also mean that the conversation and friends linger longer than the last light. Candlelight brings a new dimension to any dining experience, creating a conspiratorial and moody atmosphere. 
  • Personal touches create unforgettable moments. If you can, add small personal touches for family and friends. Be it a hand-written name card or a printed photo of what you got up to in your time apart at their place setting. Having something to take home will cement in their mind the glorious spring moment you just shared.