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The perfect alfresco dinner (table)

Harlie Briggs on wildflowers, tablescaping and dreamy outdoor aesthetics

With Mother Nature offering up a delightful forecast this summer, we’ve got pretty used to pitching up, pouring a glass and unpacking our picnic baskets. But did you know there’s more to life than M&S salad pots (sorry!) and your mum’s old blanket? With the heatwave back this week, we’re looking for new ways to spruce up our outdoor dining situation. Enter: the alfresco dinner party – a new social trend that’s seeing diners heading out to patches of green, setting up dreamy tablescapes and making the most of all these glorious golden hours we’re having.

So, in the hopes of making all our Pinterest-board dreams come true, we’ve asked artist and Instagram-approved expert Harlie Briggs for her tips on serving up the perfect alfresco dinner. Invites at the ready…

What first inspired you to dine outdoors?

I’ve always loved the outdoors. My love of animals meant that I was outside a lot more when I was younger, especially when we got our first rescue dog, Max. I’m already excited to move to the countryside one day – outdoor dinner parties all round!

What’s the one item that completes any table?

A vase always makes the table complete for me, usually filled with flowers and any natural pieces of foliage that you can find. An antique vase is my go-to, I love rummaging for treasures at antique fairs.

Where’s your favourite place to do some alfresco dining? Any secret spots?

Epping forest is so big and spans from East London all the way to Essex. There are so many magical spots, all you have to do is wander in and you’ll find somewhere special.

If you only had three items to dress your table with, what would they be?

A vase, an old antique candlestick and my Between The Vines tablecloth.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to make their dinner party table a little more special?

I absolutely adore personal touches… things like name tags with little drawings on them that are unique to every person. One time when I had friends over for a big meal, I painted a little A5 watercolour line drawing for each guest and left it on their table place. Of course I loved painting them, but seeing how happy this made them when they walked in and found their place made me love it even more!

Any tips for keeping your tablescaping unique in the winter months?

In the winter months, you’ll find things like candles and berries give a more warm feel to your tables. I also love a darker tablecloth in the winter, it can make it feel a lot more cosy. Experiment with things like sustainable sequins, or even make your own confetti with dried petals and scatter them over the table – I love doing this for the party season!

Any clean-up tips? How do you clear up after a celebration?

Put some music on and get to work (and eat leftovers at the same time!)

Do you have any advice for those of us wanting to experiment with tablescaping but in a more sustainable way?

There are lots of lovely bits and bobs on eBay that can really make a table – old vintage linen, fake grapes and bits like that. I actually love it when things are mismatched, it gives a really lovely feel to the table and also shows that you haven’t just popped into the nearest shop to buy everything. I obviously love putting my hand-painted, upcycled vases down the table as they’re so personal.

Harlie’s perfect dinner 

Monet. I’d love to hear more about his life and tell him how amazing and influential his paintings were! Or Emma Chamberlain. I feel like I could get lost in a conversation with her.

Starter: Burrata with a lovey Italian olive oil and fresh ripe tomatoes 
Main: Pasta is my favourite thing so probably something like a butternut squash pasta with a garlic and sage sauce
Dessert: Banana cake is the only dessert I really know how to make I’m afraid so that’ll have to do!

Connaught Waters in Chingford. You can opt for some decking that looks onto a lake or a more forestry feel on the little paths in Epping.