For our Midsummer Table Talk, we caught up with Sarah Tomczak to chat about al fresco entertaining. Sarah has been at the helm of one of the most popular women's lifestyle magazine, Red, for six years - overseeing its mix of fashion, interiors, travel and beauty pages. Her recently launched newsletter, Joy Seeking, aims to add some feel good into inboxes with a combination of shopping, home inspiration and the recipes we always covet from her Instagram feed.
What would be your top three tips for al fresco entertaining this summer?
The moment there’s a vague suggestion of sunshine we eat most of our meals outside – everything seems to taste better in the open air!
For me, al fresco entertaining is about creating a more relaxed convivial setting. I always serve big sharing platters and cocktails in jugs, so that people can help themselves, which instantly makes everyone more sociable.
Dressing your outdoor space brings more atmosphere – hang light muslin curtains from a pergola to provide daytime shade, twist fairy lights into trees for evening twinkle and layer a table with lots of colour and pattern, with linens and glasses in a lots of shades.
Think ahead so your guests don’t have to. Have SPF and big straw hats at hand, but also a basket of blankets to beat the chill of the setting sun.
What are your go-to dishes and drinks for summer dinner parties?
I like dishes that can mainly be prepped beforehand, with added extras from the BBQ. I’ll serve prosciutto, burrata and basil with hot griddled peaches, or chilled yogurt, feta and dill with charred tomatoes and fennel seeds. We grill whole seabass stuffed with lemon and herbs on the BBQ and serve it with Skye MacAlpine’s delicious new potatoes and samphire and homemade mayonnaise. For pudding I’ll make a pavlova with raspberries, rose cream and pistachios, or individual tiramisus in my vintage shell bowls. And for drinks, jugs of Arnold Palmer (iced tea and fresh lemonade) and gin and tonics.
How would you style a table in your own garden for a relaxed, al fresco meal?
In a more-is-more way! I’ll usually stick to a colour palette, then layer patterns or mix up my crockery and glasses. I love checked table linen and have a mixture of vintage crockery, glasses and serve ware. I use my rattan chargers on repeat. I’ll add small vases of flowers (usually from the garden) or a bowl of fruit for extra colour.
Who would be your dream dinner party guests and why?
In truth it would obviously be my best friends, who are hilarious and gorgeous and always know how to bring a party. But if I am choosing famous people: Madonna, Coco Chanel, Beyonce, Joni Mitchell, Oprah Winfrey and Gwyneth Paltrow. All women I find fascinating and inspiring – although I am not quite sure about the mix!
What would feature on your dinner party playlist?
I’ve got the cheesiest taste in music! My husband and I were recently in Lake Como and stumbled across a radio station which was playing lots of Italian hits from the 50s and 60s – I was in heaven. It made the best, atmospheric background music, so I’d probably try to track that down.
Tell us about the most memorable dinner party you've ever attended?
I’ve been lucky enough to experience some amazing parties, from handsome suppers at Claridges to glitzy awards dinners to a grand hotel opening party in Dubai with Beyonce, but my favourite dinner parties are always those impromptu get togethers in my friends’ gardens or on the beach. I live by the sea and on particularly glorious days we head to the beach with a picnic lunch – homemade sourdough, jars of tomatoes and herbs, soft cheese, sliced fruit – and all eat together. One of my friends even bought an antique lace tablecloth to put on the sand! These are by far my most memorable and joyful meals.
Which Rebecca Udall products would you use to style an al fresco dinner table?
My love affair with Italy continues so top of my wish list are the Stella linen placemats to add some dolce vita to my table. The gingham ruffled table linens are a joy all season round – but this summer I also love the limited-edition tablecloths: Margot and Chloe. I like to mix and match Alicia Murano glasses in different colours. I adore the Olivia scalloped plates – particularly with the green trim and I collect vintage cabbage serving dishes, so could add a couple of small bowls to my collection for dips and olives.