The White Company certainly know how to throw a stylish garden party. On Friday I was invited along to their summer party at Eltham Palace for an afternoon filled with inspiration and ideas for alfresco entertaining.
There was gorgeous styling from The White Company's current outdoor collection - their grey and white colour palette always feels so cool, fresh and summery and all of the pieces in their collection work together effortlessly. We also picked up table styling tips from interiors stylist Luke Batchelor, along with advice on which drinks to serve for a summer garden party from 31 Dover and enjoyed a barbecue feast cooked by Tim Maddams, former head chef at River Cottage.
31Dover served up summer cocktails and rosé and we ate charcoal fired salt pollack with bay rosemary and chilli, served with grilled asparagus with goats curd, lemon and mint and wood fired garlic flat bread. The food was amazing and Tim made it look so effortless that I came away really inspired to up my summer entertaining game this year. I'm planning a birthday celebration for Mr P in a few weeks time so it was great to pick up some tips. I love having a houseful of people but if I'm honest I sometimes find entertaining quite stressful. There are so many things to consider when planning and preparing a party and I always seem to end up in last minute panic because I've forgotten something.
Tim shared lots of great advice, showing us how to concentrate on dishes that are quick and easy to cook. He encourages keeping things simple and spending plenty of time on advance preparations so that you'll be able to enjoy the event itself and spend more time with your guests.
Here are his top tips for creating the perfect crowd-pleasing summer barbecue:
1. Preparation is key
Preparation is key. Get your prep done before you want to start cooking. That includes making sure you have all the kit you need to hand, long-handled tongs, more charcoal, serving dishes, seasoning and oven gloves are all a must, but think about chopping boards, knives and somewhere to rest meats too.
2. You don't need fancy kit
A simple kettle type barbecue will be fine for most things - make sure the grills are clean! Don't be tempted to buy a gas barbecue - you might as well cook indoors.
3. Let your location do the talking
If you are planning a barbecue on the beach, serve fish, not chops and sausages.
4. Site your barbecue as near to your dining tables and kitchen area as possible
You don't want to spend all your time running back and forth.
5. Don't use imported charcoal
Opt for coppice charcoal from a sustainable British source, there are lots to choose from. It gets hot quickly and lights easily. What's not to like?
6. Light your fire in plenty of time
It will take a little longer than you think to be ready to cook on. Look for the flames to have died down and the embers to be glowing with a light covering of ash before you attempt to start cooking.
7. Have two different zones for your barbecue
I light the fire on one side and keep it going there. As the embers spread to the other side I know where on the grill to cook, and can manage the heat, moving things that need to slow down to cooler places, and things that need a push to a hot spot.
8. Fat creates fire
Beware if you are cooking very fatty things that they will cause the fire to flare up and often burn things.
9. Allow enough time
Don't try to rush a barbecue, it won't work. If you are in a rush avoid things like chicken and sausages as these require plenty of time to be cooked thoroughly.
10. Use aromatics to deepen flavour
I often grill sardines or mackerel on the barbecue, and always lay branches of fresh bay leaves over the grill first, to add flavour but also as it stops them sticking to the grill and makes them far easier to handle.
11. Avoid sweet sticky marinades
On a hot barbecue they tend to burn and add very little to the end dish except bitter, burnt-sugar notes. I like to use spices, oil and citrus along with fresh herbs to make up my flavour palate for barbecuing.
12. Make sure everything to be cooked on the grill is at an ambient temperature before it goes on
Fridge-cold meat, fish and veg won't cook so well.
13. Cook flatbreads as a quick starter
When the grill is too hot for cooking meats, fish, veg or cheese it's often perfect for getting some flatbreads done. Serve these with a few dips as a quick starter that will help to take the edge off your guests' hunger, buying you time and providing tasty treats.
14. Be creative with your sides
Simple but different salads are the way to go, combined with a carb-laden potato or pasta salad and some flatbreads for those who like their meals heavy.
15. Relax and enjoy yourself
Don't rush, it's all about easy dining so there are no rules. If it takes an hour to cook a whole leg of lamb to perfection, then so be it. Simply cooking one great piece of meat and serving it with lots of side dishes you've prepared earlier is a great way to go.
With thanks to The White Company for a lovely afternoon.
Photography by Design Hunter.