5 ideas for outdoor summer dining

While there’s always a certain thrill involved in finding a wonderful new restaurant, there are also other fantastic ways to enjoy great food during the summer season. During the summer, with the weather warming up and the sun staying up longer, many people like to attend outdoor events which allow us to enjoy a picnic or barbecue.

Of course, sometimes these events are already established, and you are able to just go and enjoy the food, drink and company.  However, sometimes, it’s nice to put your own al fresco fare together too.  It’s easy enough to pop into Marks and Spencer for a few nice bottles of summer wine and a few fresh ingredients to organize your own picnic or barbecue – so we’ve collected a few recipe ideas for you to consider.

Here are 5 particularly fitting ideas for outdoor cooking, summer weather, and good company.


1. Portobello Burgers
If you’re going to be hosting an outdoor dinner event and cooking with a barbecue grill, you’ll have plenty of options. But for a nice summery twist a portobello burger is a great option. Hearty meals are always appreciated, but lighter options can go down a treat in warmer weather and a portobello mushroom with a little chopped garlic and a drizzle of olive oil makes a great tasty burger and is easy to manage for a large group.

2. Grilled Tacos
Tacos are some of the easiest food options for large groups, and are absolutely perfect for outdoor summer dining. Simply barbecue your choice of meat or fish and provide enough interesting toppings to allow your guests to make up their own tacos. In particular a few light citrus sauces and toppings such as shredded lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes are likely to be popular.

3. Kebabs
Another incredibly simple but delicious option for summer dining is a grilled kebab. One of the great things about serving up kebabs  is that they work beautifully for both vegetarians and meat lovers alike. Serve up skewers with peppers, mushrooms, courgettes and tomatoes, and/or chunks of meat on them, and you’ll have plenty of easy, delicious food to please your guests.  Have a few few sauce options and some warm pitta on hand and the meal is sorted!

4. Lettuce Wraps
If you want to serve up food and leave assembly entirely to your guests, lettuce wraps can be perfect. An array of cooked meats, tofu, chopped vegetables, spices and sauces – and in some cases, even nuts – will provide just about any toppings your guests could want. Lettuce wraps are a bit of work, which many people appreciate during communal, outdoor dining experiences, as it can be great fun and heightens the social atmosphere.

5. Salads With Fruit
Finally, for the simplest option of all, offer up a well-conceived salad with fresh summer fruit and vegetables.  There’s scope to make it as exciting as you like by adding a good range of ingredients from meat or fish, to cooked grains such as tabbouleh or quinoa or even a few fresh berries or some chopped citrus to give the salad a unique and summery feel.


A star in Sheffield – exquisite food at Rafters Restaurant

There has been something of a quiet restaurant revolution going in Sheffield over the last decade. Though you might nowadays have to tuck in using something other than Sheffield’s finest cutlery – it being produced in somewhat lower quantities than it was in the hey day of Sheffield steel – there is a positive bloom of talented chefs in the city, putting some of Sheffield’s restaurants firmly on the map.

A case in point is Rafters Restaurant in the city’s suburb of Nethergreen.  If you didn’t know it was there, you could quite easily miss it, located as it is up a narrow staircase on the first floor above a little parade of shops .  You know where to find it now though.

It’s an intimate, stylish restaurant set under a marvellous vaulted roof with exposed beams (hence the name apparently) so it feels very light and airy.  The restaurant staff, though utterly professional, are refreshingly down to earth and unpretentious – no-one looks down their nose if you ask for a jug of tap water here, though still and sparkling mineral water are of course available if you prefer it.

Chef Patron Marcus Lane has created quite a name for himself on the local restaurant scene and as we were to find out, quite rightly so.  The main a la carte menu has a set price of £36.95 per person for three courses, but between Monday to Thursday there is also a special menu with fewer choices on it, but which offers two courses and a complimentary glass of wine for £25 per person, making it pretty good value.  On Monday nights only, they also have a bring your own wine policy with a small corkage fee.

The whole experience oozed quality, from the little touches such as the delicious complimentary canapes of cod tempura and goat’s cheese tartlets, to the mouthwatering selection of fresh warm breads.  We opted for the two course menu and started things off with king prawns with a mango salsa and a terrine of organic chicken, ham and leeks.  Both were beautifully presented and tasted delicious.  A little water melon sorbet arrived as a palate cleanser, another lovely little touch that brought with it a taste of Mediterranean summer days.

For main courses, we’d selected a Parmesan crusted roast cod with aubergine and chickpeas and roast duck breast with baby vegetables.  The cod was a wonderful thick fillet, moist and flaking to the fork and perfectly seasoned to allow the delicate flavours to shine.  The duck breast, just slightly pink in the middle was meltingly tender.  Portions were generous and filling; if anything there was too much duck breast and we’d have happily forfeited half the meat for more vegetables, but if was truly the only niggle we could come up with on the night and that said, it was a very small niggle.

We finished off with rich dark coffee and petits fours and after adding a couple of additional glasses of wine, we’d had a thoroughly good meal in a restaurant with a very relaxed warm ambiance for a touch under £70.  It was worth it and that’s not something you can often say with complete honesty after a restaurant meal.




All aboard for fine dining on the Golden Arrow, Bluebell Railway

The Golden Arrow - Lilian CarriageThere’s nothing like a steam train to evoke the nostalgia of a bygone era – all it takes is the toot of the whistle and a blast of steam to transport us back in time, when travel – or so we believe – was so much more decadent and enjoyable than it is now.

So, a few weeks ago, when we found ourselves coincidentally in Sussex in time to step into the world of Pullman dining on the Bluebell Railway’s Golden Arrow train, we jumped at the chance.

The Golden Arrow, with its recently refurbished Pullman cars ‘Christine’ and ‘Lilian’ and 1674 Restaurant Car, recreates the famous Golden Arrow luxury boat train of the 1920’s, which linked London and Paris.  Originally a first class only service, this historic train was once one of the most glamorous and famous trains in the world.

What does one wear to dine in style on this Pullman service we wondered?  Well, the dress code said smart casual, so thankfully no tiara was required and we plumped for our best summer finery.  We were pleased to note that – with the exception of one or two folk who let the side down we thought with a sniff – most other guests had got into the spirit of it too, so the platform thronged with ladies in silk frocks and strappy sandals and men in their smart shirts and linen jackets.  The service is run largely by volunteers who dress the part with natty uniforms and white gloves, recreating some of the glamour and service of yesteryear to make it an experience to remember.

After a quick drink in the station bar, we were grandly shown to our seats in the plush green splendour of Lilian carriage and with a toot of the whistle, we set off from Sheffield Park station.  We were instantly transported back in time and everyone relaxed back in their seats, in a setting that for all the world looked as if it was waiting for an appearance from Margaret Rutherford in a classic Hitchcock murder mystery. Obviously, we weren’t going to get anywhere near Paris on this trip, but all we needed was a bit of imagination to get a taste of the past as we tootled up and down the restored section of the track on the Bluebell line.

It has to be said that the food and service on board was superb, light years away from anything we’ve ever experienced on a modern train…  The menus change each month and we had a choice of three starters and four main courses, one of which is vegetarian but must be ordered in advance. There is a very reasonably priced wine list to chose from and to round things off, there are two pudding options followed by coffee.

It was silver service all the way and we got off to a scrumptious start with a roast red pepper soup and a pate, though we did have a few hairy moments when the train lurched just as soup was being ladled from the tureen into the bowl!  Luckily, the waitress knew her stuff and still got most of it into the bowl, with the exception of a few small splashes, so disaster was averted.  I wouldn’t fancy serving soup on a train though.

A succulent stuffed chicken breast and a roast vegetable crumble with a nutty crisp topping came with a lovely selection of perfectly cooked fresh vegetables and we polished off the lot. By now, it was pitch dark outside and had started to rain with a vengeance, which only served to add another dollop of dark intrigue to the evening.

By the time we’d finished puddings and coffee, we been on our ‘journey’ for a good three hours, and we were thoroughly steeped in a warm cloak of nostalgia. We stepped off the train under the shelter of large black umbrellas held up for us by the staff.  It was the final touch of perfection to a very memorable evening.