With linen-clothed tables scattered across the southern end of Kings Domain, anyone might think Melbourne's new outdoor dining precincts have popped up ahead of schedule. However, the makeshift bistro is all part of a new picnic initiative from Entrecote restaurant in South Yarra.
"People can hire a table, two chairs and a tablecloth from us, carry them over the road, and have a cracking picnic with cheese and champagne from the bistro," says Entrecote owner Jason M Jones.
"We launched our picnic hampers and table hire on Thursday, and almost instantly they were booked out until Sunday. The only problem customers have reported is other park-goers constantly asking them where their bistro chairs are from."
Entrecote is one of many restaurants to offer picnic hampers after Premier Daniel Andrews announced Melburnians could gather outside in groups of five from two households from September 28. Catering companies are getting in on the al fresco action too.
"I thought I had a really good, original idea to create picnic hampers this week and my husband was like 'oh yeah?'," jokes Sophie Storen, owner of St Kilda-based catering and events company Cookes Food.
"All week, he's been sending me pictures of hampers other food businesses are offering. I'm like 'yep, good one'. Thanks for the support, mate!"
Regardless of the competition, Storen says she has experienced a sales "landslide" for her "Park Life" grazing boxes over the past few days.
"I think picnics are all people are going to want to do for a while, and we'll definitely keep offering the boxes over summer. We don't make a lot of money from them, but the sales mean we can pay a few bills until big events start up again."
In addition to the option of $25 table hire, Entrecote is offering petanque sets and giant Jenga with its "Pique-nique" hampers. At Neptune Food and Wine in Windsor, restaurateur Nic Coulter includes a pack of Uno cards (to be returned) with the bar's takeaway basket.
"You've got to have a bit of fun with it, don't you?" he says.
Neptune's picnics can be delivered concierge-style to designated spots in Victoria Gardens and Alma Park. Returnable rugs are included and all cutlery, plates and glasses are reusable.
"In the past couple of weeks I've seen more and more council bins overflowing with rubbish in parks," says Coulter. "I've also noticed people buying cheap rugs and baskets from K-mart or wherever, and only using the items once before throwing them out.
"To eliminate the waste and single-use stuff, I thought let's buy our own gear and customers can receive everything they need for a picnic. They only need to return the basket for everything to be washed. Now we're just crossing our fingers the good weather keeps up."
Five park-delivered picnic hampers to try
Entrecote's Parisian Pique-nique Box, $85, serves 2
All the French hits including baguettes, chicken and tarragon terrine, camembert, macarons, quiche and vanilla bavarois. Tables, chairs and champagne can be added as needed, but park punters will need to supply their own glassware. 131-133 Domain Road, South Yarra, entrecote.com.au.
Cookes Food's Park Life Brunch Box, $120, serves 2-3
A handsome oatmeal box containing croissants, Donati's ham, house-smoked trout, buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and myriad other brunch staples. Teetotalers can switch a blood orange and sparkling cocktail for non-boozy yuzu soda. Available for pick-up or delivery Friday and Saturday only. 11 Wellington Street, St Kilda, cookesfood.com.au.
Neptune's Classic Picnic, $65, serves 2
Bread, cheese and charcuterie are what picnics are all about. Neptune's classic offering will feature the holy park trinity from October 8, plus Pana chocolate, chicken remoulade, and "baba-hummus" dip combining chickpea and eggplant. A $55 vegan hamper is also available, plus the option to add spritz packs and beaujolais. 212 High Street, Windsor, neptune.melbourne.
Curtis Stone Event's Picnic Box, $75 per person
Antipasto stars in Stone's luxe picnic, full of local olives, cured meat and pickled peppers. Customers can have their choice of salad, dessert and main, such as hot-smoked salmon with wild greens and salsa verde. Available from curtisstoneevents.com.
Peter Rowland's Grazing Hamper, $165, serves 2
A cornucopia complete with picnic rug and stemless champagne flutes. Rowland's outdoor feast showcases jamon, cheddar, heirloom tomato tart, pate, Yamba prawns, Misuna crackers, and the best of spring's asparagus, peas and beans in a goat's cheese salad. All that plus a black forest chocolate mousse. Available from peterrowland.com.au.