Sometimes, by the time you’ve made a salad and a cake; found a flat spot to roll out your blanket; served the food; cleaned up; dropped your rubbish in the bin; and washed your plates at home, picnics can seem like a lot more effort than they’re worth. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
To make your next picnic as carefree as possible, Broadsheet spoke to a couple of experts on minimum-fuss park eating: Alex Elliott-Howery of Sydney’s Cornersmith cafe and drinks expert Mike Bennie, who writes our Unwined column and co-owns one of the country’s best bottle shops, P&V Wine & Liquor Merchants. Follow their advice and your picnics will be 100 per cent fun (not a chore).
How to assemble the perfect picnic spread
“Picnics are best without too much effort,” says Elliott-Howery. “Simple, well-chosen ingredients, sunshine and good company are all you need.”
Her inner-city cafe, which is known for its pickles and Scandi-inspired vegetarian fare, sells a picnic box that’s perfect to take to the cute park directly across the street. It includes top-quality ingredients you can get at any specialty deli: a big wedge of cheese, some smoked fish, a jar of pickles, a loaf of fresh crusty bread, Pepe Saya butter, a basic salad and a few pieces of fruit. It’s all simple, fresh produce that doesn’t require preparation.
“Food you can eat without too much cutlery or crockery is ideal, too,” she adds. (She’s keen on minimal washing up.)
In Melbourne, which is fast becoming the picnic capital of the world, a bunch of top restaurants, cafes and other hospo businesses have created fancy picnic hampers so you can laze and graze in style – minimal prep required. Here are 12 of our favourite options, plus some ice-cold booze and coffee pairings.
Do the assembling at the park
You can’t heat things up when you get to eating time, so aim for easy, packable ingredients that are served room-temp and won’t get soggy. If you’re cooking at home and bringing things along, aim to do most of the final touches and assembling at the park.
“Dress your salads when you arrive and don’t pre-make sandwiches,” advises Elliott-Howery. “Instead, take a loaf of bread, beautiful summer tomatoes and a good pat of Pepe Saya butter along with a jar of salt.”
To keep food in good condition while you’re travelling, she recommends taking whole ingredients (such as bread, cheese and fruit) and cutting them up at the park. It might seem easier to pre-cut at home, but when you’re using great produce you want to keep it fresh as long as possible. Bonus: “All you need to take with you is a knife and a chopping board.”
Dessert made easy
For something sweet, she suggests a batch of fresh cookies instead of messing around with a cake. They’re easier to serve, and you won’t need plates (which you’ll have to wash later) or create extra rubbish. These smoky, salty chocolate-chip cookies from cult Melbourne bakery Beatrix are outstanding.
If you don’t have time to bake, outsource it. Bennett St Dairy is delivering cookie dough to Sydneysiders (or you can pick up from the cafe), while over-the-top dessert shop The Cookie Box is delivering to lots of suburbs across Melbourne.
And another single-serve dessert option worth considering: cannoli. Cannoleria, one of Melbourne’s best cannoli-makers, is now delivering its signature Sicilian desserts across Victoria, South Australia, WA, Queensland and NSW. Each kit comes with 12 small shells or six large shells; 450 grams of ricotta filling in a piping bag; crushed pistachios for the ends; and icing sugar to dust over the top.
“Bagnums” and other clever things to drink
Avoid carting home heavy, empty wine bottles by choosing your picnic drinks carefully. Luckily, portable pre-mixed drinks seem to be in vogue right now, so there’s a lot to choose from.
Bennie reckons Jilly Wine Co’s minimum-intervention “bagnums” are the perfect picnic drop. Northern NSW winemaker Jared Dixon started packaging his fresh, light pinot noir in 1.5-litre magnum-sized bags last year when he was looking for more sustainable packaging options for his winery. (Reports show that packaging wine in glass bottles produces almost triple the amount of greenhouse gas per litre than wine packaged in cask.) A year later, his new-age goon sacks are a hit – and available in two more varieties (a textural white and a playful rosé). And at $35 a pop, they’re great value.
If you’re not into wine, try the new drinking trend sweeping Australia: hard seltzer. The OG bev, White Claw, is now available in Oz, and you can find some great local options in Broadsheet’s extensive list of what’s on the market.
Also noteworthy, says Bennie, is NSW gin distiller Wildspirit, which puts an Antipodean twist on its hard seltzer with natural passionfruit, mango, lime and raspberry flavours. “They’re refreshing and thirst-quenching and a little bit boozy,” he says. “And at only one standard drink and 80 calories per can, they’re perfect for those days that are a marathon, not a race.”
Arguably the most important factor: the location. In Melbourne, find 12 of the best picnic spots to visit all year round, some that are great for summer, and our faves in the inner city. We’ve got some great Adelaide spots here. And if you’re in Sydney, we have a list of parks with lots of space, those near or on beaches and some of the best spring picnic sites. Here are the 10 best spots in Perth, and eight outstanding places to lay a rug in Brisbane.
And finally, what else to take
Find everything from a stylish gingham mat to matching reusable plates and utensils and a classic whimsical wicker basket.
Looking for more tips? Read our guide on navigating the unexpected social politics of picnicking.