Do you think about your table and how it's going to look when you're expecting guests over for a meal?  It doesn't take a moment to produce something really special if you've got a decent set of napkins and perhaps a tablecloth or runner at home (washed and ironed of course).  The next thing (that really makes the table) are the little touches.  

This picnic is a prime example of effortless chic (although the setting obviously helps and I suppose getting the pallets there might have been a slight effort but let's pretend they were there when you arrived!).  The use of different coloured rugs and the old pallets for low tables is genius and it looks seriously inviting.  Fresh flowers too - the key to a fabulous table.

Mel Denisse Holiday Feast by the Lake

Photo courtesy of Mel Denisse


I consulted Debretts for their advice on how to set the table - forks on the left, knives on the right (yep, got that one), pudding cutlery at the top and glasses above the knives (there should be separate glasses for white wine, red wine, water and champagne), plus a side plate and butter knife placed to the left of the table setting.  They also said that napkins should be simply folded - origami napkins should most definitely be avoided.  Anyway, it's probably something we all already knew and, thankfully, informality is far more de rigueur these days both aesthetically and practically - none of us have got room to accommodate a million different glasses on the table or indeed side plates and butter knives (or can be bothered to wash them all up quite frankly).

Of course, a beautifully set table is no good unless you've also got a delicious meal planned for your guests and I've got a real treat for you because, for those that know about Gee Cartwright Cookery and missed one of her recent summer demonstrations, she's given me one of her new recipes to share with you........

Carrot Salad with Toasted Spiced Chickpeas and Tahini Dressing

 Gee Cartwright Carrot Salad with Toasted Spiced Chickpeas and Tahini Dressing

For the Chickpeas

Tin of chickpeas drained and patted dry (400g)

1 tbsp olive oil

½ tsp sea salt

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp cumin seeds

pinch chilli flakes

For the Salad

450g carrots, peeled and roughly grated

20g parsley, roughly chopped

20g mint, roughly chopped

100g feta cheese

40g shelled pistachios, chopped

½ tsp salt

For the Dressing

1 garlic clove, minced

1 lemon, juiced

3 tbsp tahini, well stirred

2 tbsp water (if needed)

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp honey

salt and pepper to taste

  • Heat the oven to 230 C / 450 F / gas mark 7
  • Toss the chickpeas with the olive oil, salt, ground cumin, cumin seeds and chilli flakes until they are evenly coated.  Spread them on to a baking sheet and roast them in the oven or the roasting oven of the Aga (should you own one) until they are browned and crisp.  This can take from 20-30 minutes depending on size and firmness of your chickpeas.  Toss them occasionally to make sure they are toasting evenly and when ready, set aside until needed.
  • To make the dressing, whisk all the ingredients together until smooth, adding more water if needed to thin the dressing slightly.  Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
  • To assemble the salad, place the grated carrots in a large bowl and mix in two thirds of the dressing, adding more if desired.  Toss in the herbs, sprinkle the chickpeas over the salad, mix and place on a large platter.  Crumble the feta over the top with the chopped pistachios and salt.  Serve immediately.

Top Tips

  • To prep ahead, prepare all the elements but do not assemble.  Refrigerate and assemble from point 4 just before serving so that the chickpeas and pistachios don't go soft.
  • This is a great salad to with BBQ'd meat or event just with grilled pitta.  Or serve with a green salad for a veggie option but keep the chickpeas separate and sprinkle them on as croutons before you eat.


So, whether formal or informal, I think every table needs fresh flowers (preferably some freshly picked ones if you're lucky enough to have a garden that you can forage), some linen of some sort, whether it's a tablecloth, runner, napkins or all 3, they really do make a table look special.  You'll also be needing plenty of candles if you're entertaining at night as they add atmosphere (and everyone looks and feels good in candlelight).  We stock a couple of things at Andrassy Living that you might find useful (!) like these Blue Neem Hand Block-printed Napkins...

Bungalow Napkin in Neem Blue at Andrassy Living

or these Etched Pillar Candles by Broste Copenhagen would look beautiful dotted amongst some foliage down the centre of the table (they really are a stunning alternative to the standard pillar candle).....


Broste Copenhagen Etched Pillar Candle at Andrassy Living

Finally, it's not just when guests come over that a beautifully set table is often overlooked - everyday family meals count too.  Even if you add a jam jar of daisies and light a candle when you sit down for lunch with your family this weekend, they'll know that you care about making mealtimes special.  You can even get the kids involved with setting the table and creating little arrangements of flowers they've picked from the garden (I'd advise some supervision if they're small since mine once lopped the heads off all my hydrangeas, but the table really did look stunning!)  

Have a great weekend, eating and enjoying conversation around the table (hopefully a beautifully set one).


NB. If you haven't yet discovered Gee Cartwright Cookery and you live anywhere near Hampshire, you can sign up for one of her fabulous demonstrations by visiting her website

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