Al Fresco Autumn

Autumn Garden Tablescape

While the vagaries of the British climate can play havoc with entertaining outside, the late summer months often repay us kindly with tranquil evenings set against a backdrop of stunning autumnal colour. By going back to basics in terms of cooking and eating outside, our most primitive needs are met - allowing us to feel that we can retain summer’s freedom for a little while longer.

Autumn Table, sliced bread
Autumn Table, vase

The fresh air and more relaxed setting have been shown to boost appetite, reduce stress and improve sleep, leading in turn to an increased sense of wellbeing. This can be acquired with a minimum of space – even the smallest terrace offers the opportunity to extend your living outside. Dining al fresco is about more than just food; heightened by natural surroundings it takes on a whole sensory dimension, providing a most convivial environment in which to entertain.

So, how do we go about creating this ambience at home?
Outdoor Dining

Now is the ideal time to invest in a firepit or kadai to create an inviting focal point and provide some additional warmth as the evening cools. Traditionally used in India for cooking at festivals or weddings, the functionality of a kadai is incredible. Use as a source of heat (it is more eco-friendly than a patio heater), with a grill it transforms into a barbecue and when not in use it can even be used as a planter or somewhere to ice the drinks.

Children will love toasting marshmallows but if they’re not so keen on barbecued food, not many will reject a pizza! For authentic wood-fired food, there are several outdoor ovens available, which are not only ideal for producing authentic crispy pizzas but can also be used for wood-fired fish, vegetables and meats. Alternatively, portable gas pizza ovens provide a speedy way to serve friends and allow younger guests to get actively involved in creating wild and wonderful toppings. The bonus of a tabletop oven is that you don’t have to miss the party in order to cater for your guests, and if you are struggling for fresh ideas of what to serve, there are now a multitude of cookbooks specialising in outdoor cooking to provide insight and inspiration.

Light It Up

Improvements to solar powered lighting has meant that there is reliability in capturing and storing the sun’s energy for use when darkness falls, without having to rely on expensive electricity. Fairy lights always add a touch of magic, and a festoon of large, clear light bulbs look wonderful hung around a seating area or along a terrace, adding a soft, ambient glow to your surroundings. For a more traditional candlelight experience, lanterns are also a lovely way to welcome guests. With large, clear panes, soft candlelight can be delivered from several small candles grouped within or from one large church candle for elegant simplicity. Everything (and everyone) appears more beautiful in candlelight so don’t skimp on the number of candles you have scattered around.

Autumnal Candle Lanterns
Warming Decor

Seating needs to be considered. Will your guests be eating at a table or casually wherever they find themselves? Benches are very useful year-round but for a more formal gathering, a dining set crafted from teak or steel provides comfort and structure, and the patina of these pieces improves with time. To complement the table and make an occasion extra special, there’s nothing quite like a beautiful tablecloth to elevate the setting. Match with smart napkins and beautiful glass goblets for an elegant look and don’t forget to provide soft cushions to add extra comfort. Warm woollen throws are always welcome, to drape around shivery knees or shoulders as dusk falls.

Autumn Table
Autumn Table, choosing olives

Prepare any food you can before guests arrive– large serving dishes and water pitchers come in very handy. Stylish food covers do a wonderful job of protecting dishes from unwanted advances (both insect and human!) and a floral arrangement of dried grasses or hydrangea heads adds height and interest to the setting or you could use pumpkins or gourds for something different. Finally, pop the drinks on ice, set the mood with some music and let the casual, festive fun begin!