Going all out to entertain in the garden kitchen

how to take al fresco feasting to the next level


As the season for outdoor entertaining comes round again, the buzzword this year is… infrastructure. After decades of schlepping the garden furniture into the shed each the winter, there’s a feeling that it makes sense to invest in a permanent set-up.

So this summer is all about durable products, built to withstand several years, rather than a season or two, and live outdoors come rain or shine. And we’re not just talking furniture — cooking itself is also increasingly an al fresco pursuit, requiring a suitable open-air stage.

“Opting for weatherproof materials is the key to creating an outdoor kitchen that lasts year after year,” says Jamie Thomas, MD of The Surface Collection. He recommends a worktop in a sturdy non-porous material such as porcelain, which mimics the beauty of natural stone but requires a fraction of the maintenance. As for those countertops, he advocates lining them up on either side of an external wall, if possible to site the outdoor kitchen adjacent to the indoor one — keeping worktops at the same height forms a seamless visual link.

The outdoor kitchen can double as a garden bar if a sink is plumbed into the worktop and a fridge is installed, along with shelves to store glasses — check out the gorgeous wood-panelled set-ups by specialists Gaze Burvill incorporating Sub-Zero and Wolf top-end appliances. But you don’t need plumbing to create a bar ambience, with many furniture suppliers now offering high tables with stools, some fitted with firepit centres for toasting snacks or just keeping warm while sipping cocktails.

The star of the outdoor kitchen is inevitably the cooking appliance, and here again there’s a trend towards permanence. New for this year is Charlie, a solid, British-built oven big enough to cook a whole meal as well as bake enough pizzas for a crowd in minutes. Unlike a barbecue, it’s temperature-controlled, freeing the host from standing over food as it cooks over the charcoal, and as efficient for baking bread as searing steaks or slow-roasting lamb. It doubles as a home-smoker and comes in ten colours (including bright saffron, oregano, turmeric and rhubarb) of non-rusting stainless steel.

While the Charlie costs a cool £5,000-plus, small pizza ovens from Ooni are now within reach of more modest budgets and can be driven by gas or electricity as well as wood.

Tables fitted with fire pits in the centre enable you to sit with fellow guests and cook over coals together. Manchester-based furniture manufacturer Desser has both dining tables and high-level bars fitted for communal cooking. They are upholstered in showerproof fabric and a waterproof cover is also provided, to keep the assembly protected during the bleakest winter months.

When it comes to lounging, proper outdoor sofas now also come designed for year-round use — check out those by Maze Living, which offers collections with rustproof aluminium frames as well as weatherproof fabric. Those frames are also important for pergolas, a piece of garden infrastructure particularly worth investing in when fitted with a louvred top, which can be slatted shut to bring the whole garden party instantly under cover in the event of a sudden shower. For balconies and patios, the answer to shelter from rain is a colourful awning, which can be retracted into an exterior wall when full sunshine is preferred.

A plug in the wall makes fixed outdoor lighting a breeze — choose lamps or spotlights that project several metres into the garden and angle them as required for where you want the focus to fall. The wider garden and its plants can be nicely lit by strings of solar-powered lighting that come magically to life as dusk falls. As well as strings of fashionable Edison-style bulbs, Lakeland is also offering attractive solar lanterns in waterproof material punched to cast beautiful shadows while lighting the lawn.

Don’t forget the role textiles have to play in outdoor entertaining — both functional, as in sturdy oven mitts necessary for inspecting outdoor meals in progress, and colourful, as in tablecloths with a botanical theme to fling over those weatherproof tables.

Tasha Green, founder of Weaver Green, says: “Think of your outside dining area as an extension of your home. A beautiful outdoor rug gives a soft and cosy look, while also marking the area as a specific dining space. Coordinate the rug with your table linen and scatter cushions. You could also drape some warm throws or blankets over chairs for extra warmth on chilly evenings. All of Weaver Green’s rugs, cushions and throws are made entirely from recycled plastic bottles. This means they are stain-resistant, water-resistant and washable — perfect for outdoor use.”

Parasols offer shade and instant shower protection and, sunshine or rain notwithstanding, throws to keep knees warm are an essential accessory for the perfect outdoor party, and look smartest matched rather than mixed; M&S has a good range in washable cotton.

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