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A Lunch With... Flora Soames

What better way to learn about the refined palates of the most influential creatives around than to break bread with them? For the inaugural iteration of our new series, Inigo visits textile designer and interior consultant Flora Soames who, over a delectable tomato tart, chats to us about the art of hosting

Words
George Upton
Photography
Ellen Hancock
A Lunch With... Flora Soames

From Flora Soames’s front garden you can look past sheep grazing the well-tended parkland of the Ferne estate and on to the rolling Wiltshire hills. It’s a quiet spot, tucked away off a private road and nestled in woodland; a place you can imagine whiling away the hours with long walks and lazy lunches. Yet for Flora – one of House & Garden’s top 100 interior designers – this idyllic setting has also been a place of creativity and inspiration where, in 2019, she devised her first collection of fabrics and wallpapers.

Taking cues from her archive of antique textiles, Flora’s creations breathe new life into rare and elaborate patterns, complementing the refined and considered style of her interior-design projects. Her ‘Pavilion’ collection, which launched in July of this year, is a range of simple stripes in bold colours that draws on 1930s samplers. It’s a timeless and versatile print that feels right at home in Flora’s quintessentially English cottage. Made up into tablecloths, cushion covers and parasols, the fabrics set the mood perfectly for a light, relaxed lunch in the late summer sun.

Flora has always been passionate about food, an obsession she inherited from her father with whom she would pore over recipes and plan dinners. Although she has amassed a considerable library of cookbooks, she confesses that “when it actually comes to cooking, I’m not very good at sticking to the rules.” Instead, Flora prefers an instinctive approach, which owes much to formative time spent in Italy. She places an emphasis on good produce, working with whatever she can source locally rather than going to the supermarket. “If you’ve got really good ingredients and you’re keeping it simple, you can’t go wrong.”

For our lunch, Flora was guided by a desire to “delay the arrival of autumn”, preparing a salad of fresh courgettes, lemon, pine nuts and feta, spaghetti alle vongole, and a show-stealing tomato tart with Serrano ham (recipe below). As Flora observes, her approach to food echoes the easy, no-fuss style that she brings to putting a table together – covered in an abundance of flowers cut from her garden – and her work as a designer. After we finished eating, Flora shared her tips for laid-back hosting over lemon polenta cake and coffee…

Forget the rules

The less structure the better. I love indulging a more lavish approach to flowers, food and wine, but anything goes – I rarely have anything on a table that matches. Asymmetry is great, not matching is good and a burnt crust on your quiche is fine.

Embrace informality

It’s so nice to finally see all these gatherings going ahead when they had all been put on hold for so long. You don’t need to throw a lot of money at it. What’s important is that we can all be together after a year and a half apart. Concentrate on making it as sociable and easy-going as possible – people should feel free to come and go as they please and sit where they want.

Enjoy yourself!

At the end of the day, time is really precious. If you’re entertaining, remember to savour the food, the flowers and the company, rather than overthinking it to the point where you can no longer enjoy it. You should be having as good a time as anyone else.

Summer tomato, Serrano ham and rosemary tart

Ingredients

A rolled sheet of all-butter puff pastry
10 slices of Serrano ham (or prosciutto)
2 cloves of garlic
A handful of chopped rosemary
100ml good virgin olive oil
3 large plum tomatoes (all/any colours), sliced and left to dry on kitchen towel
A handful of roughly torn basil
Black pepper

Method

Set the oven to 180°C fan
Lay out the puff pastry on a baking tray covered with parchment
Using a food processor, whizz up the torn ham, rosemary and half of the olive oil with a generous amount of black pepper
Spread the mixture onto the pastry with a soft spatula, leaving a border of around 2cm
Arrange the tomato slices on top and drizzle with the remaining olive oil
Bake for around 30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden
Sprinkle torn basil on top and serve

Further reading

Flora Soames’s ‘Pavilion’ collection

Flora Soames on Instagram

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