Guest Post: Ideas from the British Seaside for Outdoor Entertaining
Written By: Gabby Offord
We had our doubts here in the UK but summer has most definitely arrived. Like all good things, it has been worth the wait. Glorious sunshine and temperatures up in the high twenties has seen us cracking out the factor 50 (sunblock) and barbeque-ing like there’s no tomorrow. Given the vicissitudes of British weather, there is a fair chance it won’t be sunny tomorrow. While the sun has got its hat on, you will find us Brits outside soaking up every ray and trying not to burn our hides or our dinners!
After months of being cooped up indoors, al fresco dining is the ultimate treat – breakfast, lunch or dinner – they all taste better with added sunshine. Here are some of my favourite tips for outdoor entertaining:
Bunting – it’s absolutely essential to all British festivities. From street parties to village fetes, you will find these events festooned with rows and rows of jolly little flags! The origin of bunting is nautical and dates back to the 17th century. Signal flags were used by the Royal Navy and in fact, ships’ communications officers still refer to signal flags as “bunts” – As a traditional seafaring nation, it’s no wonder bunting is so adored in the UK. A few judiciously placed strings of these magic flags are guaranteed to add instant colour to a dining environment and create a fun, party atmosphere.
Keeping in line with its nautical roots (and I happen to live on the coast), a particular favourite of mine is Coastal Bunting by British accessory design company, Navigate, but you can always make your own using pretty paper or fabric in the colours of your choice.
Lighting is another lovely way to create a warm summer glow when the sun starts to go down. These glamorous, eastern-inspired lanterns (also from Navigate) look stunning in a garden setting and, if it’s safe to do so, lighting the path to the party with tea lights also looks fantastic. You could also try hanging a few ropes of twinkling fairy lights – just don’t get them tangled up with your bunting!
Fiddly bits …
If you’re planning a sit-down meal outdoors, potted plants look sensational as a centrepiece. Use a mixture of flowers and herbs to really pique the senses and whet your guests’ appetites. Coloured glass, like these delightful flower bottles from English crystal company, Dartington, can also be used to create a striking effect. Likewise, the humble jam jar can also be transformed with the addition of a pretty piece of ribbon or lace and used to hold sprays of flowers or a bunch of lovely grasses. And if you’ve got a mixture of pretty glassware, why not mix and match each guest’s place setting to make each one unique – you could even add a special tea light and olive bowl to each setting.
Any good contribution deserves an introduction. Please meet our newest contributor, Gabby Offord
01 Please introduce yourself:
My name is Gaby Offord and I work at Havens Ltd, a wonderful independent, family-run department store in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, near the famous seaside town of Southend-on-Sea. While I’m no expert on design, I know what I like and I love being surrounded by truly beautiful, stylish items at work every day. The shop itself is a sensational example of Art Deco design, one of my favourite periods. The original polished wood fittings and stained glass windows and atrium have all been lovingly preserved. It is pure pleasure to work in such an atmosphere of timeless elegance.
02 Do you entertain at home?
For me, a house is not a home unless it is regularly filled with friends and family – entertaining your nearest and dearest is surely one of the greatest joys in life. I fall squarely into the informal camp when it comes to entertaining, although I don’t believe that needs be at the expense of style. Going to the effort of creating the right atmosphere is a lovely gesture to your guests that will make them feel special and welcome.
03 Is there anything unique about the Essex area from a cultural perspective that influences how you entertain?
Like many seaside towns, Southend, Westcliff and Leigh-on-Sea all attract their fair share of artists and makers, so there is plenty of creative inspiration to be had from wandering around the studios and local shops. The coast itself is also a huge influence – we are so lucky to be able to buy freshly caught fish and seafood, as well as sample samphire and sea spinach when they’re in season. Sea spinach, in particular, is a forager’s favourite – I’ve seen a few people get quite competitive harvesting it!
04 What are your favourite dishes?
I think summer is made for grazing – I love delicious salads, olives, salamis, cheese and smoked fish. Roasted vegetables with fresh herbs and lots of garlic added to couscous is a current favourite, as is Greek salad – the flavour combinations are just so good. And barbecued food is hard to beat – halloumi tastes incredible cooked on the barbecue, never mind steak, lamb chops and the humble sausage – I could go on (and on and on!).
05 If you could dine with three people who would you choose?
Marie Curie, Anita O’Dey and Harry Belafonte. Each fascinating in their own right and each likely to be just as fascinated by the others – it would be quite a conversation.
06 What can always be found on your table at home?
Wine glasses. Chatting with good friends over a glass of wine is my idea of time well spent. Since I’ve worked at Havens, I’ve come to appreciate good quality glasses – there’s something about a decent piece of crystal – the weight and cut really lend a sense of occasion, even if what you’re drinking isn’t of quite the same quality!