I wouldn’t ordinarily think of buying a picnic from a restaurant.
For me, picnics have always been a different sort of eating out. It’s about getting down and dirty. Roughing it. During my teenage years, summertime meant Saturday night picnics at Kenwood — Pringles, pitta, dips and warm wine out of plastic beakers. Classy.
My more recent al fresco aspirations have been all about my two under-nine’s. Buckets of chopped carrots and cucumber. Bags of hulled strawberries and picked grapes. With a few peanut butter sandwiches and some crisps and a sweet treat and it’s job done.
Even those uninspired picnics require a good 30 minutes or more of preparation. If I do ever push the boat out a pack a few home-made gourmet treats that’s even longer.
I’ve been missing a trick!
You can now buy ready-to-go picnics from various food stores and restaurants. I’ve been sampling a few and I’m converted.
First up was the simplest. A pique-nique from French artisan bakery, PAUL. Goat’s cheese salad, chewy sourdough baguette on the side; a filled sour-dough baguette stuffed with hummus and roasted veggies plus a pistachio macaron the size of small child’s face; tender, melting apple tart and two packs of their home-made crisps. The bottle of cola brought the tone down slightly but otherwise I’d have been very happy to nosh this on a lazy lunchtime. Probably not smart enough for an evening affair, but it was all packed up in a branded cool bag with a red checked disposable table cloth – nice touch.
A treat, but didn’t leave me feeling luxed out. 3 out of 5.
The next offer came from Italian chain, Carluccio’s. I had to pick this up from my local restaurant and it came in its own Carluccio’s blue cool bag. (I’m building a collection.)
This was a treat. I ordered the veggie version plus one for the children. The alternative was too treife to try.
The mini-Fressers (Fresserlahs?) chowed down on pasta with tomato sauce; carrot, cucumber and slivers of cheese; grissini – not the uniform sort you get in packets in trad-Ital restaurants, but a more home-baked looking species. The highlight was a brownie teddy with Smartie buttons. (One per picnic but they were sharing.) The whole spread got a double thumbs up – high praise — and 5 out of 5. “Best picnic ever.” Teddy clearly won their hearts.
I’d also give high praise to my grown-up grub. Generous portions and proper food. Antipasti — mixture of pickled veggies and olives, artichokes, balsamic onions etc; crostini topped with creamy ricotta, herbs and peas (delicious); a panzanella salad (chopped tomatoes, cucumber, spring onions, cucumber in a tart dressing with chunks of torn ciabatta to mop up the juices. Also on board — stuffed baked peppers (filled with cheese, spinach, tomatoes and basil) on couscous salad; generously sized apricot tarts and thick, salt-sprinkled, chewy focaccia triangles. With two of everything it was more than I could manage in one sitting.
A picnic of princes – or even kings. 5 out of 5.
For a relaxed evening or lunch without the frantic running around the kitchen, order these. There’s not even any washing up! Just dump it all in a (recycling) bin and go on your way…
H Forman's do some fabulous food to-go and one of my favourite deli's, Melrose and Morgan (find them in Hampstead and Primrose Hill) do a delicious picnic. If I taste any more, i'll keep you posted.
The Modern Pantry sent me a fab vegetarian picnic. A picnic from Modern Pantry chef Anna Hansen's kitchen was always going to be gourmet. Hansen, who trained with one of my favourite chefs, Peter Gordon, has two restaurants - in Clerkenwell and Finsbury Square - in which she produces a menu fused for a number of global cuisines. Multi-national cooking can be disastrous, but Hansen had a good mentor, and has a light touch.
My mouth was watering in anticiapation of this treat. Arriving in an eco-friendly cloth bag, it didn't disappoint.
A salad of spiced roasted vegetables was substantial and packed with interesting ingredients. Cauliflower, carrots, cashew nuts, tomatoes, tenderstem, manges touts, corn, spinach and sunflower seeds were surrounded by black quinoa. A party in your mouth.
Roasted vegetables and creamy mozzarella in focaccia slathered with garlic and lemon mayo was also a treat. Even the crisps were a bit different - parsnip and manuka honey. Although a little like pot pourri in texture, they had a grown up curry-ish taste. The huge salted caramel brownie (which I managed to squirrel away to eat all by myself) was perfect. Gooey, salty and generously sized — but not too much for my sweet tooth. On the side — a can of Dalston's lemonade - i'm not a fizzy drink lover, so passed this on.
I ate the whole picnic myself over the course of an evening. (Oink.)
A definite 5 out of 5.