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1:06pm Tuesday 30th June 2009 in Profiles
With our fickle British summers, you cannot rely on the sunshine — but when it does put in an appearance, you need to grasp the opportunity with both hands.
Get out and about in the countryside, on the river, or at the plethora of summer events from Wimbledon and Henley regatta to music festivals like Cornbury, or annual crowd-pleasers like the Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford.
In common with all these things is the need for food and drink — so it is time to indulge in a fabulous picnic. And they don’t have to consist of boring sandwiches and crisps, because there are picnic specialists queueing up to ensure you have a wonderfully Mediterranean-style experience in the open air, without the hassle of having to buy and prepare it yourself.
I think the most quintessentially British of sights is guests at the fabulous Henley Festival (July 9-12) dressed in their finery and seated at picnic tables set up in the car park, complete with table linen, candlelabras and wine coolers, and heaving with fabulous picnic food and drink. Gazebos and umbrellas are always at the ready to cope with the vagaries of the weather.
So a team of six of us tried and tested four ready-prepared picnics — three ordered and collected locally, and the fourth a delivered picnic. Here is what we thought: Carluccio’s Al Fresco 1 picnic, for two people, £45 The contents: Antipasti selection (chilli-stuffed olives, sun-blush tomatoes, balsamic onions and ricotta and speck involtini); farfalle pasta salad with tuna, peppers and capers; roasted chicken legs stuffed with herbs, breadcrumbs and mortadella, wrapped in pancetta; chargrilled vegetables in a balsamic marinade; two slices of olive oil bread; two individual lemon tarts; Carluccio’s biscotti from Piedmont; Sicilian Sicani red wine (or white) (75cl); Acqua Panna mineral water (two x 50cl) Our verdict: The picnic came neatly packed into a reusable Carluccio’s cool bag and all the food was in good, leak-proof containers — easy to transport to your chosen venue. This is a really good Italian selection and is heavy on the olive oil, so it is all quite greasy and a bit messy in places. The antipasti selection of olives, tomatoes and ricotta and speck involtini were enjoyed, but there weren’t many takers for the large container of chargrilled veggies in a balsamic marinade. However, we used them up the next day as a pizza topping! There were two large containers of pasta salad, which featured generous amounts of fresh tuna, green beans, olives and capers — again, plenty of leftovers. The chicken legs could have looked more appealing if they had been sliced up, instead of left in one large sausage shape. The lemon tarts and the Piedmont biscotti (meringues dipped in chocolate) were delicious, and we liked the flat ‘bread sticks’ to nibble on. The menu of contents provided with the picnic was useful.
The details: Carluccio’s picnics are available throughout the summer and a limited number of ready-prepared hampers will be available to pick up from both the Oxford Castle and Bicester Village Carluccio’s caffès, but to avoid disappointment, order at least 24 hours in advance. Customers who re-use their Carluccio’s cool bag will receive £3 off their next picnic purchase on production of the cool bag.
n Carluccio’s, 42 Oxford Castle OX1 1AY Tel: 01865 249 413 Carluccio’s, Bicester Village, Oxon OX26 6WD Tel: 01869 247 651, www.carluccios.com Tapas in a Box Tapas Snack Box, serves ten, £52.50 The contents: Chilli and chicken kebabs; maple and mustard salmon skewers; tortilla (Spanish omelette); olives in herby marinade; bell peppers stuffed with cream cheese; roasted almonds; salami; roasted vegetable brochettes; Queso de Oveja Curade (cheese) Our verdict: This picnic was ordered online from Tapas in a Box and it was delivered in an insulated box with freezer blocks - if you wanted to transport it to your picnic venue, for ease of carrying you would need to transfer it to a cool bag.. It was a typically Spanish selection of tapas-style dishes and mostly enjoyed, though the tasters would have liked some bread or crackers to go with the cheese and salami. We didn’t particularly like the tortilla cold, so didn’t think it was an appropriate picnic choice, and the salmon skewers weren’t a great success. However, the fried almonds, olives and bell peppers stuffed with cream cheese were excellent - we fought over the bell peppers! If you want to graze on snack-type food this is the one for you.
Details: Order online at www.tapasinabox.com The Feathers, Woodstock Picnic Option Two, for two people, £47.50 The contents: A basket of crusty rolls and fruit muffins Quails eggs Roast beef, roast ham, smoked venison, parma ham, chorizo, salami Hot oak smoked salmon, cured smoked salmon Olives Almonds Onion chutney French and English cheeses and crackers Strawberries, raspberries, cream Our verdict: This was definitely the Rolls Royce of picnic hampers and positively heaving with gorgeous food and drink, including chilled Champagne. It also comes at the amazing price of £47.50 for two people - unbelievably good value. It was packed into a traditional wicker hamper and featured china plates and dishes, glassware, cutlery, jug of cream, linen tablecloth and napkins, picnic rug, and extremely weighty slate platters on which the meat was beautifully arranged. Bear in mind, that this all needs washing and returning to The Feathers. It was a really old-fashioned picnic, but you would need to drive to your picnic site because you wouldn’t want to carry this far! The fabulous selection of meats was a big hit, though tasters felt that there could have been a little more emphasis on British products, and a little less on continental cured meats. They also felt that the cheese selection should have been more British, and salad of some kind would have been an appropriate addition. However, everything tasted divine, and there was so much of it - we thought this hamper could have fed four people. There were two large portions of salmon - cured and hot smoked - and we thought this needed some lemon with it. It should also have been served on a plate or slate, like the meat and cheese, as it was messy to deal with when you unwrapped the clingfilm. The quails eggs were perfectly cooked, still slightly runny in the middle. We would have liked a menu listing the contents of the hamper - especially the cheeses. This applied to the Villandry and Tapas in a Box picnics too.
Details: Order from The Feathers, Market Street, Woodstock OX20 1SX Tel: 01993 812 291, e-mail: email@example.com www.feathers.co.uk Order required 24 hours in advance Villandry, Bicester Shopping Village Primrose Hill picnic, for two, £27.50 per person asparagus, quails eggs, parmesan salad Poached salmon, minted pea puree Ciabatta loaf and two bread rolls Crisps Selection of cheeses and biscuits, grapes, chutney Individual lemon tarts Two bottles of water This picnic was collected from Villandry at Bicester Village and was packed in good, leakproof containers into a large Villandry-embellished coolbag. Bear in mind there is no wine with this picnic, so you would need to provide that separately. We really liked the prettily ribbon-wrapped wooden cutlery, and this was the only picnic that included little packs of (gorgeous, French) butter. Everyone loved this light selection of food - the asparagus salad was delicious, though the quails eggs could have been cooked a little less to retain some softness in the yolk and one taster felt the asparagus needed a French dressing to add some moistness. The salmon was perfectly cooked, and delicious. We would have liked some lemon to squeeze over. The lemon tarts were fine, though uninspiring. There was an excellent selection of cheese and biscuits, and the orange chutney was an ideal accompaniment. Size-wise, the Villandry picnic was just about the right size for two people with healthy appetites.
Villandry, Bicester Shopping Village, OX26 6WD A variety of picnic hampers are available. To order, visit the website: www.villandryhampers.com or call the Bicester store, 01869 355070.
48 hours notice is needed and all picnics must be collected.
Picnics and summer go hand in hand, and one of the best ways to enjoy both is afloat!
All along the beautiful River Thames there are small self-drive boats available for hire, perfect for enjoying a picnic on board. Many restaurants along the river will make up a hamper for you if you hire one of their boats. What could be easier and more fun than drifting along the river with a group of friends or family while delving into a delicious hamper of treats.
The following restaurants will make hampers ordered in advance and offer boats perfect for picnics afloat: *The Beetle and Wedge Boathouse, Moulsford, near Goring This restaurant’s charming wooden launch can seat up to ten people comfortably. Delicious picnic hampers can be ordered at the Beetle and Wedge to be eaten on board or you could use the boat to simply enjoy a couple of pre-dinner drinks on the river. One hour boat hire costs £50 and four hours costs £150. Hampers ordered 48 hours in advance cost from £15 per person and include cheeses, salads, gravadlax, chutneys, baguettes, melon and strawberries. See www.beetleandwedge.co.uk *The Swan at Streatley, near Reading For just £20 per hour (£25 at the weekend) you can hire one of The Swan's electric motor launches and spend an afternoon afloat, quietly drifting along the river. The Swan will provide picnic hampers ordered in advance so you can enjoy your meal on the river. See www.swanatstreatley.co.uk * The Compleat Angler, Marlow Cruise the River Thames in style with The Compleat Angler’s Edwardian-style electric launch, available for up to six people for £85/95 per hour and £75/85 per hour after. A picnic platter for four people consisting of poached salmon, sandwiches, salads, scones, cheese and biscuits and strawberries and cream costs £36 and must be ordered 24 hours in advance. Smaller picnics can ordered for £25. See www.macdonaldhotels.co.uk/compleatangler * Runnymede Hotel & Spa, near Windsor Enjoy a lazy day cruising in this hotel’s private electric six-seater boat, available for £40 an hour. Picnic boxes complete with tablecloth, napkins and cutlery are available for £14.50 per person if ordered the day before. Choose from a choice of sandwiches, salads, light snacks and drinks. See www.runnymedehotel.com