Spring has sprung with a new focus on picnic pleasures.
Everybody outside! Because the sun is shining. Because you have a dog or kids. Because everything tastes better outdoors. But mainly because outside is not inside, and it's good to get out in the fresh air and blow the cobwebs away. And because there's so much inspiration out there on how to eat, drink and cook al fresco, whether it's the backyard, the balcony, the beach or the bush.
We're seeing next-level picnic banquets and barbecue kits from the chefs and restaurants we love, finding new flavour-bomb snacks and relishes, and discovering novel ways of making dining outside as exciting as dining out. Here comes the sun, and we can't wait.
Don't forget the cocktail sauce
Rug, check. Straw hat, check. Seafood platter from one of Australia's best-known fishmongers, check-checkitty-check.
Steve Costi's new online store is swimming with shellfish and sashimi platters that can be delivered to your door. The mixed seafood platter ($175 for four, pictured) includes freshly opened oysters, tiger prawns, smoked salmon and Moreton Bay bug tails, bread rolls, pickles and, yes, cocktail sauce. costi.com.au
Say ciao to chips and spritzes in the sun
The Italians have their own word for a picnic, "la scampagnata", which unofficially translates as sitting under a tree munching salami and cheese while drinking chilled lambrusco.
To become more fluent, just order the Fabb Picnic Pack ($80) from Fabbrica, the deli, pasta purveyor, formaggeria, salumeria and wine shop from the team behind Ragazzi and Dear Sainte Eloise.
You'll get a fresh baguette, Kris Lloyd Bertie Brie, LP's saucisson sec, smoked paprika crisps, marinated olives, pickled baby figs and bread-and-butter pickles.
Add an Aperol Spritz three-pack or that bottle of lambrusco. You'll even get a Ciao tote in which to carry your picnic. Order by noon for same-day delivery. ciaofabbrica.com
Park first, picnic later
Dubbed the People's Park by Sir Henry Parkes in 1888, Centennial Park is oozing with picnic spots (the Labyrinth? The Duck Pond?). If you're within cooee, stake your claim to a prime location first, knowing that you have pre-ordered a hamper ($80 for two) from the park's own Centennial Homestead cafe. That way, you don't have to carry your San Daniele prosciutto, triple-cream brie, vintage cheddar, sweet potato hummus, sandwiches, detox salad and Belgian chocolate mousse too far (the risk of pulling a picnic muscle is real). centennialhomestead.com.au
Battered Murray cod and chips from Charcoal Fish. Photo: Rob Palmer
The new fish and chipper
That delicious – and reliable – charcoal chicken bought en route to outdoor gatherings could soon be replaced by Charcoal Fish. Josh Niland of Paddington's Fish Butchery has opened a chic little fish and chipper in Rose Bay, with a menu devoted to sustainably farmed Murray cod.
Have it every which way, from roasted to charcoal-grilled with salad and chips. The best, however, is battered and fried to a lacy, shattering crispness, ready to take to the beach ($28 for one with chips, tartare and pickles). charcoalfish.com
The Boathouse restaurant group has always known just how to press our summer-is-coming buttons, anchoring its decor with jaunty nautical stripes and sea-shell bowls, and serving seafood and zesty cocktails by the sea.
Now they sell their gorgeously kitsch lobster bowls bedecked with shellfish and lemons ($15 to $49) from Boathouse Home. Buy a stack and you're suddenly transported to a summer day by the sea, in your own backyard. theboathousehome.com.au
Chebbo's Classic Burger Box. Photo: Supplied
Smash burgers like a pro
Ali Chebbani started 2020 with a burger truck, and now sells 400 Chebbo's Classic Burger Boxes a week via pick-up or delivery. The Classic comes with milk buns, American cheddar slices, beef patties, green oakleaf lettuce, pickles and onion and Chebbo's "secret sauce" ($26 for two).
There's also a Cheeseburger Box and a MasterFoods Aussie Burger Box. His Smash Burger is "smashed" onto the grill as if with an iron, creating a Maillard reaction that maximises caramelisation. "The secret to that awesome crust is the fat that renders on the griddle," he says. chebbos.com
The power of the sundowner
Once you've had pre-batched cocktails delivered to your door, there's no going back. "Lockdown has taught us many things, but especially how nice it is to be able to pull a negroni out of the fridge when you need it," says Ed Loveday, special projects director for family-owned hospitality group Solotel.
The Big Mood cocktails ($35-$95 for 500ml) masterminded by the former ACME and Bar Brosé co-founder will kickstart the al fresco cocktail hour, from a negroni to a best-selling lychee martini and alcohol-free no-groni. Loveday says that bar-quality, home-delivered drinks are here to stay, noting, "they're a long-term solution to a short-term problem". drnks.com
Butter gets better
"A jug of wine, a loaf of bread and thou" is a pretty good start, but it's better with butter. Top chefs Neil Perry and Mark Best have put their names on the new CopperTree Farms butter, with salted and truffled versions respectively ($5.50 for 200g; available at select Woolworth's stores).
Premium beef business CopperTree Farms produces fat-marbled beef from retired dairy cows, dry-aged to intensify the flavour. The cream from these cows is so rich, founder Nick Venter decided not to waste it, but to churn it into fresh, grassy butter. Word is spreading. coppertreefarms.com.au
Chaco Bar's DIY yakitori kit. Photo: Supplied
There's an in-your-face, smoke-in-your-eyes immediacy to sitting up at a great robata bar nibbling on skewers of yakitori straight off the coals. It's even better when you take it outside, however, courtesy of Chaco Bar's DIY yakitori kit. Chef Keito Abe packs up ready-to-grill chicken thigh, tsukune (chicken meatballs) and pork with salads and sauces ($80 for two) for slap-it-on-the-grill thrills. chacobar.com.au
Or upgrade to the Vic's Meats x Chaco Bar kit for 14 sticks – a mix of yakitori, tsukune and kushiyaki starring (and supporting) our finest producers, from Borrowdale pork belly to Stone Axe full-blood wagyu ($115 for two to three). vicsmeat.com.au
Lift your cheese game
Just because you're dining outside, doesn't mean you need to drop your cheese game.
"Cheese is picnic-friendly because it is almost a complete meal in itself," says Michael Mashman of Newtown's specialty cheese restaurant, The Stinking Bishops.
"Just add good bread or crackers, muscatel grapes, quince paste and strawberries, which are particularly good at the moment. Throw in champagne or chardonnay and you're set, whether it be a romantic date or a catch-up with friends."
The key elements he advises for outdoor eating include a soft white mould cheese. "I always take a French brie – the gooier it gets from being outside, the better." Then he would throw in a creamy blue. "The time outside allows the flavours to open up, like a good wine." His third cheese would be a washed rind. "My go-to is a really nice taleggio," he says.
"These cheeses are all quite soft because if you are sitting on a picnic blanket, on grass, trying to cut through a hard crumbly cheese, it may well end up on your friend's lap."
The Bishops' three-cheese hamper with lavosh crackers, muscatel grapes and quince paste is $65, with delivery Sydney-wide. thestinkingbishops.com
Build-your-own banh mi box from Lit Canteen. Photo: Supplied
More upside to outside
Until dining rooms bounce back, chefs are focusing outwards.
Catalina Rose Bay has launched Catalina Picnics of seafood and antipasto ($150 and $120 respectively, serves two-three) to take haute-side. Add cocktails and a Catalina Picnic rug ($40). Pick up or delivery. catalinarosebay.com.au
Banh mi rolls are perfect picnic fare, the crusty baguettes ready to stuff with pâté, ham, pork, chicken, pickles and salad. Alexandria-based Lit Canteen's Can't Banh Mi picnic box, $65, feeds six. litcanteen.com.au
Drop by Bar Elvina in Avalon from noon at weekends and pick up a bottle of smoky, salty Bloody Mary to add some spice to whatever you're serving picnic-side. 500ml $45, 1 litre $90. barelvina.com.au
Hot brisket, mustard and Swiss cheese rolls ($15) sound perfect for a picnic in Parramatta Park. Order from Harvey's Hot Sandwiches, Parramatta Square, and add a creaming soda float just for fun. harveyshotsandwiches.com
In Wollongong, Babyface Kitchen is open from 1pm to 3.30pm, Saturdays. Make yours a hot pastrami burger ($24) or dry-aged Murray cod roll ($22). Mad if you don't add a Garage Project beer. babyfacekitchen.com.au