How to Have the Perfect Picnic

Experts in the fields of food, drink, fashion & dinnerware give their tips for the most enjoyable of summer activities.

Words & Images


Everybody loves a picnic. Reclining in a beautifully verdant location as you pop endless grapes into your mouth is a dream summer activity. Sadly, that Jane Austen-like scene you initially envisioned all too often is just that – a dream. In reality, it's bottles escaping down hills, scraping squished scotch eggs off soles and a sudden downpour that leaves more than your cakes with a soggy bottom.

Now, we can't help with the weather but for everything else, we've enlisted a range of experts in the fields of food, drink, dinnerware and fashion to give you a hamper's worth of advice to pack for the perfect picnic.

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Tart London on what to eat
“Proper picnicking can seem like a bit of a fading art with the rise of packaged and fast food (whose detritus now blights so many special places). Sadly, out of laziness, people have succumbed to plastic-wrapped ready meals. The perfect picnic should be the product of careful thought and creativity, a cacophony of flavour, colour and texture, with added naughty treats. The Victorians were the original picnickers, preparing elaborate homemade outdoor feasts at any opportunity. It takes time to cook, bake and package a whole picnic yourself, especially if the plan is to produce distinct courses. So it may be more realistic to invite everyone to bring something to the rug, and see what happens. With a bit of luck you'll end up with a wonderfully varied outcome.

For any al-fresco feast we like to keep things as easy and travel-safe as possible, so it's best for components to be kept separate – keeping dressings in closed jars ready to pour over salads, mozzarella balls kept whole until the last minute, and a good bottle of extra virgin olive oil. Pre-griddled sourdough rubbed in garlic works well with ingredients to make your own bruschetta – good quality Parma ham, smashed rosemary butter beans, sweet tomatoes with torn basil, homemade pesto and some rocket.

We love a flask of cold soup (our own avocado spiced soup is the best), a little container of crab to add to individual portions, while our easy to make scotch eggs travel well and always go down with great gusto. Big bowls of seasonal fruit like white peaches and nectarines, or generous bowls of berries (with cream kept separate) are key.”

Tart London is Lucy Carr-Ellison and Jemima Jones, food columnists for ES Magazine and creators of bespoke catering for the fashion industry. Their first permanent restaurant space Wild by Tart opens September 2019.

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Lily Vanilli on what baked goodies to bring
“If I'm packing for a picnic, I love a Victoria sponge with pillowy soft cake, lots of berries and vanilla buttercream. Pile fresh strawberries high on top and it's perfect with champagne in the sun. A whole cake is maybe a bit of a faff to pack but it is so worth it when you get there. They will travel fine in a biscuit tin or a cake box – just take a plate to transfer it onto once you're all set in your picnic spot.

I'd also pack chocolate chip or oatmeal cookies and a loaf or slices of my buckwheat banana bread, as they're perfect for snacking on throughout the day and travel really well. Brownies are good too. Anything without icing is going to be really easy to take with you if you're hiking to a secret, scenic location or have lots to carry. You cant really go wrong, all cake is great at a picnic.”

Lily Vanilli is a baker and author of three bestselling cookbooks. Her Sunday café on Columbia Road, East London is always packed and she recently opened her second store in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Berry Bros & Rudd on what wines to pour
“It’s not a proper picnic, in our view, until you’ve got a glass in hand. But there are a few easy ways to make sure you’ve got the perfect bottles in your hamper.

First, don’t get too tied up in food-and-wine matching. The best blanket feasts come with an array of different dishes – from Ottolenghi salads to Scotch eggs – so you want something versatile, and light enough to drink without food. Fizz, whites, rosés and light reds are our go-tos. Beaujolais is possibly the ultimate picnic wine; light, fruity and immensely moreish.

If you’re likely to forget a corkscrew, then stick to screwcaps and fizz (an excellent excuse, if one were needed). Screwcaps don’t mean a drop in quality; try Birichino’s elegant Cinsault or Frankland Estate’s refreshing Chardonnay. Sparkling wines add a sense of occasion to any event, whether it’s a bottle of more decadent Champagne or deliciously fresh Crémant de Limoux. Make sure you can keep whites and fizz cold – burying in sand works well on the beach, otherwise invest in a good cooling sleeve (we like Le Creuset’s one).”

Berry Bros. & Rudd is Britain's oldest wine and spirit merchant, having traded from the same shop since 1698.

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The Sober Sommelier on what no to low alcohol to drink
“The best picnics begin with a glass of fizz and the no-low picnic is no exception. Frieixenet have just launched an incredibly fresh, light and fruity alcohol-free sparkling wine that defies belief on taste. Not too sweet, slightly honeyed with balanced citrus notes, it sets the bar in its category.

For those who want to whet their appetite with a sophisticated Aperol-style tipple, there are two stunning offerings created by notable alcohol-free pioneers: Aecorn Apértifs’ Aecorn Bitter and Everleaf’s bitter-sweet apéritif. While for the traditionalist (which I am at heart), few things surpass a beautifully crafted wine paired with a lovingly prepared picnic. The conundrum of ‘what to drink when you are abstaining’ has been thoughtfully solved by the clever vintners of the Spanish winery Torres and their stunning Natureo Low Alcohol Rosé (0.5% abv). The taste does not disappoint, being fresh and light with notes of cherry and boiled sweets whilst the hints of red and black fruit compliment the well-balanced palate of this eminently quaffable, low-alcohol rosé perfectly.

As for cider, you will be hard pushed to find a better no-low option than Waitrose’s own medium dry and crisp Low Alcohol Cider (1.0% abv) made in the Herefordshire countryside from traditional varieties of bitter sweet apples. Incredibly refreshing, dangerously moreish, it’s that good you may need a case!”

Alex Norwood Hill, aka The Sober Sommelier, is the founder of Cordus Drinks (non-alcoholic bitter sweet apéritif), Ex-Michelin Star Mixologist and a Bon Viveur on a mission to discover and share the best in no-low drinks.

Charlotte Rey on what dinnerware, decorations & games to take
“The dinnerware for the perfect picnic should feel quite playful and simple to reflect the loveliness of the season, and being outside in the sun and greenery. Nothing too precious but tactile and natural is nice, like Svenskt Tenn’s bamboo handled cutlery or Matilda Goad's rainbow set. Maybe serve salad with the Ginko Biloba tongs from Doing Goods. I dream of the Richard Ginori pink Oriente plates and I think we’d drink out of my own Campbell-Rey Rosanna tumblers. I quite like a tumbler for all things drink in the summer – makes it much easier to balance the glass on grass for one!

I like to just have big central plates with veggies and fruit and trays brimming with dips so friends can serve themselves when they feel like it and eat with their hands. If we’re a bit of a number I’d love to cover the ground with old Persian rugs and big soft cushions to rest upon. I love the decadence of eating while reclining, it feels quite Roman. I am Swedish so I have to say that a game of Kubb (ancient Viking game played with wooden blocks) is always a hit and gets everyone involved!

Hopefully the surroundings are very lush and verdant so there's no need to cut flowers for decoration but I’ve always liked ladies’ parasols to protect from the sun and I think they’re thoughtful as well as decorative. And maybe some Welsh blankets to put sleepy little children under. While nothing beats candles holders in the nearby trees for when the sunsets.”

Charlotte Rey is the Swedish co-founder of Campbell-Rey, a design partnership and creative consultancy with Duncan Campbell, that works across creative direction, furniture, product and interior design.

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Ellie Pithers on what to wear
“My perfect picnic outfit is the one Grace Kelly wears to dine alfresco in To Catch a Thief : a rosy-hued two-piece with a dramatic chiffon neck sash that sails in the wind behind her neatly coiffed hair as she pilots a Sunbeam Alpine roadster through the hills above Cannes. Perhaps I just like it because it’s in this deeply elegant ensemble, complete with snow-white gloves, that she delivers the knockout line: “Do you want a leg or a breast?” brandishing roast chicken at Cary Grant from a wicker picnic basket. But I think it could also be that sash – you never know when a dramatic waft of material will prove vital to your chic picnicking persona, along with cat’s eye sunglasses and a very large straw hat.

Other things to deploy: an ankle-sweeping dress, preferably in a faded 1970s floral (avoid minis unless you have either exemplary deportment or excellent underwear); sturdy hiking sandals (someone will inevitably suggest a walk, and Prada’s SS19 iterations are, surprisingly, as technical as they look); and a denim jacket (this will double as a picnic blanket when you finally reach the conclusion that six people and 60 sausage rolls sadly cannot fit on a tartan square that is closer in definition to a neckerchief than a blanket). Avoid white. It will all end in tears. And always wear sunscreen.”

Ellie Pithers is the fashion features editor and senior associate digital editor of British Vogue.

Sophie Agar on where to go
“For me, the dream picnic spot involves some dappled sunlight, ideally a mix of long and short, soft, meadowy grass, proximity to refreshing, flowing water (for a spot of paddling) and no-one else around.

But if that’s a struggle to find, then a grassy verge (away from a busy thoroughfare) with shade close by and space to spread out a large blanket full of finger food should be all you need to lay back, relax and munch on strawberries.

My top three London spots for a summertime picnic are Kensington Gardens (the sloping verge by the meadow), anywhere in Chelsea Physic Garden and atop the hill at Primrose Hill.”

Sophie Agar is Brand & Marketing Director at Papier – as well as an experienced and extremely distinguished host of the most tasteful picnics.

Invitations for a perfect picnic