IT MAY seem a contrary idea, offering picnics at your restaurant, just in case anyone ventures in and actually sits down, but with summer hopefully making a return, and people on the look out for al fresco dining suggestions, Prezzo seized the focaccia baton and is running with it all the way to the nearest park.

As a result the Oxford Castle Italian now boasts four picnic hampers, ready and waiting to be filled with whatever you want and taken away.

Wanna be picnickers can just pick of the specially, designated and ample picnic menu, order in advance, or turn up impromptu, choose what you want and wait on site with a cold beer until it’s ready.

Actually the choosing is the hard part.

I don’t know the last time you went to Prezzo but it has really upped its game. Firstly it serves black pizzas, I know, I had to try one. Apparently they are much better for your digestion, but were they like the Napolitan version of baked beans or more like Imodium?

I did try to opt for more a more outdoor spread – olives, hummus with flatbreads, bruschetta with fresh tomatoes.

Then some pasta, a salad and a couple of black pizzas.

Throw in a bottle of cold rosé and some sparkling water and Bobba’s your uncle.

The food arrives in plastic bags and your hamper, which you have to pay a £20 deposit for, arrives complete with cutlery, glasses, plates and a lovely blue rug. Our picnic was for four, but most cater for two.

The lovely manager Martin was delighted to be trialling the picnic concept because having only been launched this week, there had so far been no takers.

They do have to stay on their toes however, because will a full restaurant all dining outdoors, the picnic order is added to the busy kitchen waiting list, and took a while to emerge. Next time, I’d definitely order in advance.

But as soon as our order arrived, the captive audience were all peering about, craning their necks and nodding, agreeing what a good idea it was while wishing they could try it.

The idea of picking up your food and wandering off somewhere tranquil with it certainly appealed, especially here in Oxford with so many gorgeous hidden spaces, outdoor theatres and airy locations.

As it was I took it home, laid the table in the Garden, turned on the outside lights, invited some friends around and dined like Italian kings.

The food was top notch actually. Long gone are the days when a couple of sausage rolls, a scotch egg and a few curled up sandwiches would suffice. But the Italian slant meant this was a picnic that roared.

Admittedly, with pizzas on hand we couldn’t leave it too long before eating, and warmed ours up in the oven beforehand to stop them congealing, but presumably most picnickers collecting theirs are en route to dine anyway?

Anyone in doubt can stick to the pasta, the salmon penne (hot, oak-smoked salmon, broccoli and red chilli in a creamy pomodoro and pesto sauce) was delicious by the way. Pungent, tomatoey and succulent it was a big hit.

But first the starters, the bruschetta was made on a pizza base and then pulled apart and divided up, so suitably oily and soft with lovely fresh tomatoes and basil scattered on top, the olives good quality, especially when washed down with a cold glass of rose and the even the hummus was decent, nothing supermarkety about it, with plenty of tahini and olive oil and lovely with the flatbreads. A little box of calamari completed the picture, although again these need to be eaten quickly before they get cold.

So far, so brilliant.

The pizzas though. They were worth the trip alone. Black is so the new red. Made with activated charcoal dough, they come in two exciting recipes:

The Etna – with a garlic chilli and tomato base, topped with calabrese sausage, pepperoni, roquito chilli pearls, rocket and mozzarella and The Monte Bianco – with a béchamel sauce base, topped with fresh mozzarella, truffle infused oil and rocket. Both were lip-smackingly good, and a nice change from the usual white, chewy, doughy base, without taking anything away from the flavour, but enhancing it so that the pepperoni, peppers and rocket sang sang.

The Bianco was much more unusual though, a black base, white sauce and green topping, rendering it highly eclectic, yet surprisingly quaffable. It tasted much better than it looked.

The chicken Caesar salad was perhaps not best suited to being packed up in a box but we were stuffed to the brim already, the detritus of our pizza lying around us.

And that’s the other wonderful thing about picnics. The leftovers are already in boxes ready for you to take to work the next day.

It won’t be long then before all four picnic hampers will be in full use.

  • Prezzo,

  • Oxford Castle