Restaurants: Tasty fare in the open air
Vivienne Heller savours al fresco food and music while sampling hampers in Holland Park
Saturday 10 July 1999
Those in the know made a beeline for the picnic tables, but we found a perfect spot beneath a canopy of trees. The rain held off as we admired the hampers: Villandry for my Francophile father, Harrods for my genteel stepmum, Judy, and Planet Organic for the indefinable Vince. The three shops had responded quite differently to my "opera-picnic" request, but each inspired the same excitement. Etiquette was thrown to the wind as we delved in: take the buzz of opening Christmas presents, and triple it.
Harrods was the most fun, with a natty bottle opener and the dinkiest cruet set (so covetable that it's now salting up the recesses of my handbag). Father muttered approvingly about the heavy-duty paper napkins and the ice cubes in rows of bubbled material that could be detached to chill drinks. Vince busied himself converting the cooler bag into a cushion pad, while Judy and I were besotted with an olive decoration, stuffed with a sprig of rosemary like a mini pineapple.
The dishes were perfectly executed, if a tad predictable: "What your mother packs to make sure you're well fed," noted Vince. I mused on my deprived childhood as I grazed on Marie Rose prawns with blueberries and lamb's lettuce, and pondered the complex rearrangement of the heavenly dressed lobster. Real cutlery was a treat, as was the glass, though for alcoholic drinks we had to turn to another hamper.
Villandry's half-bottle of cote du Rhone was the perfect accompaniment to a fabulous Mediterranean spread - basic ingredients lovingly prepared in antipasti fashion, ideal for relaxed feasting. We raved about the roast mushrooms, melting organic beef carpaccio, colourful ratatouille and coronation chicken, among many other treats. The fudgey chocolate cake was on a par with Harrods', eliciting envious sighs from neighbouring picnickers. It would be invidious, advised my father, to say it was all anything other than excellent.
Planet Organic doesn't actually do hampers, but food orders can be boxed and delivered within a three-mile radius of the shop. Following my opera- picnic request, Trisha had assembled a jumble of treats that included tortilla chips, artichoke hearts, organic ham, plums, tomatoes... all with the Soil Association's badge of approval. I had a grand time reading the packets - tales of thoughtful fish farming (sublime smoked salmon!), award- winning apple-juice manufacturing - and appreciated the way a bug jetted into my glass of heady organic viognier.
And the opera? Donizetti's bucolic tale L'Elisir d'Amore was the finishing touch to an unforgettable feast.
Holland Park Opera (0171-602 7856) pounds 26
PICK OF THE PICNICS
Harrods London SW1 (0171-730 1234). Balmoral picnic pounds 37 a head, plus pounds 14.95 for the cooler bag with (endless fun) picnic accessories.
Villandry 170 Gt Portland St, W1 (0171-631 3030). Our selection, from a daily-changing menu, was a great-value pounds 48 for two (plus pounds 5 for the box)
Planet Organic 42 Westbourne Grove, W2 (0171-221 7171). Pay per item; add pounds 5 for delivery & pounds 1.50 shopping fee
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Thailand beach murders: Thai PM suggests 'attractive' female tourists cannot expect to be safe wearing bikinis
- 2 Scottish independence: Learn from Quebec's mistakes and beware of promises. Vote Yes.
- 3 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 4 Revealed after 75 years of secrecy: 'Fifi' the glamorous WW2 special agent who tested British spies' resolve
- 5 Have you heard about the film Singapore has banned its people from watching? Well, you have now
Laurie Lee's Rosie: What is it like to inspire a writer's work and be immortalised forever on the page?
Lego breaks out of the toy box and heads for the gallery
Doctor Who series 8: Time Heist pictures revealed ahead of episode 5
The Walking Dead season 5 air date, trailer and season 4 recap
Star Wars 7 leaked set photo of Adam Driver changes everything
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'