If you’ve ever read Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows or at least are quite the foodie, you’ll be familiar with Rat’s picnic with Mole.

‘Hold hard a minute, then!’ said the Rat. He looped the painter through a ring in his landing-stage, climbed up into his hole above, and after a short interval reappeared staggering under a fat, wicker luncheon-basket.

‘Shove that under your feet,’ he observed to the Mole, as he passed it down into the boat. Then he untied the painter and took the sculls again.

‘What’s inside it?’ asked the Mole, wriggling with curiosity.

‘There’s cold chicken inside it,’ replied the Rat briefly; ‘coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrollscress
sandwichespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater—-‘

‘O stop, stop,’ cried the Mole in ecstacies: ‘This is too much!’

‘Do you really think so?’ enquired the Rat seriously. ‘It’s only what I always take on these little excursions; and the other animals are always telling me that I’m a mean beast and cut it VERY fine!’

Well, let me tell you – Uyen and Simon of Fernandez and Leluu can put together a picnic that trounces Rat’s picnic or heck, any picnic I’ve ever managed to throw together. Case in point, a recent picnic, sponsored by Ryvita, held at the Henley Royal Regatta at Henley-on-Thames, and to which I was invited. I hadn’t realised that these races were such a big deal in the rowing world but I was keen to see what it was all about. Well, I’d say half the people there were about the rowing and the other half were just keen to dress up and be seen. It’s not exactly my scene but I’m glad I had the chance to experience it.

Rowers

Picnickers

Back to the picnic – this is what’s it’s all about, right?! We made our way through the crowds and met at the Ryvita stand, Ryvita being the sponsors of our picnic, and a massive spread was laid out. In Rat style, the food included:

The Spread

Pork rillettes, pork and peppercorn pate, sweet French ham, Spanish serrano ham, Italian salami, a sadly neglected salad of leafy greens, rocket, beautiful yellow and red cherry tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and basil, a humongous tubful of the best Russian salad, …

A Massive Tub of Russian Salad

… olives, roasted red peppers, a giant mound of crispy fresh samphire, a large plateful of freshly shucked oysters (a lot of the seafood was from fin and flounder), a long side of serious smoked salmon (except this, this was from Donald Russell, the butchers!), gorgeous cubes of tuna sashimi with a spring onion, wasabi and soy dressing (as served at their supper club as part of their style of fish and chips), …

Tuna Sashimi

… the most gigantic prawns ever, lemons, about 10 types of cheeses (including a log of goat’s cheese, manchego, gorgonzola, cream cheeses), creamy butter, membrillo, figs in a mustard sauce, baguettes, rosemary bread, more Ryvita than you can imagine (a variety of their classic crispbreads and their new flatter, crisper thins), …

Massive Prawns

… strawberries, cherries, blueberries, raspberries, flat peaches, plums, grapes, pomegranates, orange flower and lemon curd cupcakes (courtesy of VioletsCurd), strawberry and blueberry trifle (Uyen put them together with cake she baked herself and fruits soaked in Cointreau), pears poached in Champagne and vanilla (Simon’s recipe – they were amazing), stacks of bottled water, cold bottles of Luscombe fizzy drinks (lemon, orange and elderflower), and lashings of Laurent Perrier champagne.

Individual Trifle

Apparently, each time something else was pulled out, there were gasps of disbelief from the surrounding picnickers. I was certainly in disbelief the entire time! Everything was served in proper glasses, on proper crockery, and with proper cutlery (we ate off summery Cornishware plates) which is seriously hardcore when it comes to picnicking! The food too was hardly supermarket fare – most of it was sourced from markets or online or cooked at home. It certainly felt a bit odd sitting there surrounded by all this food while people would stop and point and take photos with their mobiles.

The company was equally excellent with fellow guests The London Foodie, Meemalee’s Kitchen, Feast on Scraps, Greedy Diva and VioletsCurd of the Hatcham Supper Club and we were joined by both Fernandez and Leluu and Wild Card, representing Ryvita. Wherever possible, I’ve linked to their posts about the picnic.

It was an altogether fabulous time in the sun with us all lazily lunching for the whole afternoon. When we’d finally packed up after the feast and walked over to the car to put it away, a security guard recognised us and commented, “You’re the ones with the mental picnic over there!” Yes, it was certainly an epic picnic.

Massive Spread

Thank you again for the invitation, Fernandez and Leluu and Ryvita! It certainly was the best picnic I’ve had to date! All my photos from the day can be found in this Flickr photoset.

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Jim Haynes is part of the latest advertising campaign by After Eight (yes, the chocolate mints!); you might have seen the commercial on television featuring what appears to be a fictional dinner party host in Paris. Only he’s not fictional! Jim Haynes is a real flesh and blood person and yes, he’s been holding weekly dinner parties in his house in Paris for 30 or so years. The big difference between his dinner party and your dinner party is that yours probably doesn’t include 70-80 strangers. How does he fit them all in? Well, he gets them all to stand up, of course – totally opposite to the whole table and chairs thing going on at Fernandez and Leluu, a weekly supper club held in East London.

Having read the fabulous reviews of this supper club over on the London Foodie’s blog, this secret restaurant had been on my radar for a while due to its gorgeous food (especially on the amazing Vietnamese nights). Unfortunately it’s on the opposite end of town on one of the worst nights for me as Saturdays are when the husband works and it’s all generally a mess. So when I received an invitation to a special Jim Haynes night at Fernandez and Leluu, organised by After Eight and Qype, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to try it out. And so last Tuesday evening, I found myself standing in Simon and Uyen’s gorgeous living room.

The Party

Wait, standing? Yes, it was a one time only standing only party reflecting the dinner party style normally held by Jim. With all the tables gone, the space held all 40 or so of us, instead of the usual 20 or so. This must have been some pressure on the kitchen upstairs but Simon and Uyen made it all look easy. Jim Haynes was utterly charming as he wove his way around the room that’s full of food bloggers and Qypers. Of course, we weren’t just standing around – we were eating too! Please excuse the use of flash in these photos as my poor little dying point and shoot couldn’t handle the low light otherwise!

Starters came around all individually plated, designed, I think, to be eaten while standing up. Vietnamese fried spring rolls, a big meaty summer roll, a chunk of pork terrine on toast, prawns with a smoked salmon mayonnaise and a carrot and coriander chicken salad were all laid out with some nuoc cham for dipping the rolls. The big highlight for me was that summer roll, chock full of pork and prawns, and possibly the best I’ve had. The chicken salad was also wonderfully light and refreshing.

Starters

The main course was similarly plated: slices of roast fillet of beef, a garlicky stuffed baked potato, mushrooms in white wine, lambs lettuce and garlic bread. The beef was incredibly tender and the potato was absolutely genius for us stand up finger eaters – easy to pick up and bite into.

Main Course

After a speech by Jim (after 30 years of dinner parties, that man is full of stories!), dessert came round in glass tumblers. Bread and butter pudding was wodged in each cup over what I think is a white chocolate custard and topped with strawberries macerated in whisky. This went down very easily.

Dessert

Unfortunately, I had to scoot off after dessert to cross London again. It was great meeting many of the London’s food bloggers too, including some new faces to me: The Grubworm, Intoxicating Prose, London Eater (his post of the night has some fabulous photos!), and TomEatsJenCooks. It was a fun night with some seriously good home cooking!

Thank you to Sarah from Grayling (After Eight’s PR company) for the invitation and thank you to Simon and Uyen (Fernandez and Leluu) for welcoming us into your home.

Jim Haynes

Fernandez and Leluu
a secret location in East London (shhhh…)

Jim Haynes
in Paris.