THIS IS A PAID POST IN ASSOCIATION WITH STELLA ARTOIS
I have been to Royal Ascot many, many times but, until last week, not once have I picnicked. It’s a shame, as taking the time to picnic before the races with friends is a very long-standing Ascot tradition.
So Chloe and I were very pleased to be invited to a very smart picnic indeed, hosted by the lovely Rosie Birkett (her really excellent new book, The Joyful Home Cook, has just come out) with Stella Artois before the races started on Gold Cup Day – also known colloquially as Ladies Day.
This time we were going to be in the Queen Anne, instead of the Royal Enclosure, where the dress code is a little more relaxed. So I took advantage of not needing to wear a hat with a 10cm base, by borrowing the prettiest green satin hatband, covered in bows and veiling, from the Queen’s milliner Rachel Trevor Morgan. I paired it with a loose navy silk block printed dress by Beulah, La Redoute green leather block heels (no sinking into the grass for me) Le Specs sunglasses, and a silver bag from Aspinal of London (gifted).
I found Ms Beeney lurking at Waterloo, resplendent in floral cotton Erdem, Whiteley’s hat (from the always reliable Fenwick’s millinery department, and Bulgari bag.
I always, but always take the train to Royal Ascot – once, some years ago, I was stuck in a car for forty-five minutes in stop/start traffic outside Ascot town, and nearly missed my BBC Five Live presenting slot. Never again.
You may have seen photos of the lengths to which Royal Ascot guests go to produce the perfect picnic, unpacking everything from the family silver to candlesticks for the perfect setup, but I think any racing picnic host would be hard pressed to match the sight that greeted us, as we walked across the lawns of the Royal Enclosure Lodge, the traditional home of the CEO of Ascot Racecourse.
We were celebrating Joie de Bière, the idea of taking time to savour special summer moments with good friends, food, and of course Stella Artois. Rosie had created an elevated picnic to match the occasion, with so many of my favourite things to eat that it was, frankly, a trial to have to wait for all the guests to arrive before diving in.
It was hard to know where to start; Rosie and I both share a passion for heirloom beetroots, and there was a bright zingy salad of beets and oranges. There were peaches, tomatoes and burrata, little wobbly asparagus quiches, a leafy salad, a quinoa tabbouleh, buttered and salted warm Jersey Royals, a board of pork pies, brawn and Scotch Eggs (Rosie swears that the Scotch Egg is the ultimate picnic food), Scottish smoked salmon, delicate pink slices of roast Longhorn beef, a seafood salad and, of course, ice-filled buckets of Stella Artois.
I do think pudding can be a challenge outdoors, but a tray of tiny meringues, perfect berries, and one mouthful lemon tarts is a perfect solution.
Oh and there was cheese. Perfectly looked-after cheese, just in case there were any little holes in our stomachs that needed filling.
When we had all eaten second, thirds, and, ahem, fourths, it was time to head to the Racecourse proper to see the Queen and Royal procession arrive from Windsor Great Park. Then we took a lesson in how to pour a perfect Chalice of Stella Artois at the Lawn Bar.
I watched; Rosie poured, with great style.
Chloe and I spent the rest of the day placing bets, and finding friends to buy drinks. We did a quick drop in at Ascot TV with hosts Ginnie Chadwyck-Healey and Rosie Tapner to talk about our outfits, and say hello to the various milliners waiting for their TV slots.
We managed to track down Miss P in the Royal Enclosure, who was wearing one of my beautiful Suzannah silk dresses. (I drove over a few weeks ago with a carboot full of dress options for her. I am a very useful friend to have around the Summer Season.)
I continued my winning streak from the day before by again betting on Frankie Dettori, this time in the Second, and came away £35 heavier, thanks to his win on Sangarius. We watched on the big screens hung over the Parade Ring, whilst perching on the steps: our heels were starting to reach the razor blade part of the day.
With huge thanks to Stella Artois for hosting Chloe and me at Royal Ascot on Gold Cup Day, and to Rachel Trevor-Morgan for lending me that delicious hatband