Kitchen tables deserve good tableware. Su Carroll advises on how best to dress yours
I always think that September is the loveliest month, and not just because it includes my birthday. It’s because the schools go back and everywhere in the Westcountry is quieter; the heat of August has passed but there are warm days aplenty to enjoy and there’s still the chance to savour the flavours of a fading summer, albeit more likely indoors!
Create your own Indian summer with tableware to bring in the sunshine. Choose crisp, white tablecloths, proper linen napkins, plenty of clear glass and plain white plates but dress the table up with colourful bowls and serving dishes, flowers and scented candles.
If you want your table to suggest something more exotic, make sure you mix and match. Find different plates and bowls, your quirkiest china and lots of coloured glass. For a centrepiece, choose highly scented herbs – rosemary, lavender, basil or thyme – and transplant them into painted terracotta pots or make a retro plant holder with a brightly decorated tin, perhaps something interesting you’ve brought back from your holidays. Just make sure there are no sharp edges, clean it and carefully pierce holes in the bottom for drainage.
There has been a trend recently towards a more industrial approach to plating food. Kilner jars have found their way out of the pantry and onto the dining table, providing the perfect size and shape in which to serve a pâté or mousse. Mini milk bottles can carry sauces and creams, miniature pans are a restaurant favourite for chips or gravies, and scallops and oysters may find themselves reunited with their shells on a bed of rock salt or sand.
Don't overlook the possibilities of different ways of serving food: wooden platters, terracotta dishes, slabs of slate, fruit bowls… Even trays, mirrors, glasses and tins can be pressed into service. Just make sure they’re clean, and, if necessary, line with foil, kitchen towel or clingfilm.
If you want something special, it’s always worth supporting artisan producers, and Devon has plenty. The Shops at Dartington near Totnes has a wonderful range of ceramics and a well-stocked kitchen shop, and The Devon Guild of Craftsmen in Bovey Tracey sells handmade tableware by local artists.
Michael Taylor of Lone Ash Pottery at Ashwater says local potters offer people the chance to buy something unique. “I like the fact that what comes out of the kiln is different every time,” he says. “Even when I do a production range for the David Mellor store in London there will be 200 mugs and no two will be the same, which I like.”
Michael, who also runs pottery classes, says espresso cups are trending and mugs are always popular because of their affordability. One staple is colour – blue is always a bestseller when it comes to pottery.
If you’re keen to support artisan producers, there are plenty on hand from around the world at Nkuku in Harbertonford near Totnes. From the café and shop, it sells work by artisans, thus supporting small communities and celebrating their skills by bringing their products to a wider audience.
When you have a beautifully dressed table, you want food to play its part, too. Luke Fearon, Head Chef at the Michelin-starred Treby Arms in Sparkwell, knows all about the importance of choosing the right tableware. “The right plate is vital for the food,” says Luke. “It serves as a vessel for the dish and, while not as important as the flavours, it impacts massively on your eating experience. For example, certain flavours work really well on wood because it gives a warming feel.
“When we’re cooking, the first thing we do is pick the flavours. The second is the techniques we’re going to use. The third thing we do is look at how we’re going to present it because people do eat with their eyes. I’m quite a visual chef, so I take a lot of trouble finding the right crockery.
“Temperature is also important. Wood will give a warming feel and we will warm some plates. We also chill plates to enhance the flavour of the food,” concludes Luke.
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