Londoners have been slower to adopt the café culture enjoyed by our Continental cousins since the 18th century. But we’re making up for lost time. Café tables spill on to pavements at the first sign of warm weather, while alfresco entertaining has never been more popular at home.
Celebrating our new-found love of bistro culture, Priscilla Carluccio has created a French café collection within her wonderfully quirky, eclectic lifestyle shop, Few and Far (www.fewandfar.net).
As the wife of chef Antonio Carluccio (who heads up the excellent Carluccio’s Caffe chain) and sister of Sir Terence Conran, she knows a thing or two about creating a relaxed, café-style ambience using well-designed furniture and attractive accessories.
'Café tables spill on to pavements at the first sign of warm weather'
“Putting this collection together takes me back to the days when I was a selling English pine to French customers at French markets,” she says.
“I’ve always been interested in typically French café accessories - lovely carafes and glasses, simple china and well-made furniture for use indoors and outside. They are very much things I have in my own home.”
Few and Far has vintage and new editions of café furniture by French manufacturers Tolix and Drucker. Galvanised metal Tolix chairs were first made in France in the Twenties and quickly became a national icon.
'I have always been interested in typically French café accessories'
Few and Far has a six-month UK exclusive on the re-edition of Tolix’s Chaise 1937 in inky-blue (£240), originally made for the eighth Universal Exhibition in Paris.
It also has Tolix re-editions of further Thirties designs - Chaise AC in pillar-box red (£130), leather-detailed Chaise A Tapissée (£280) and Kub, a grey circular table with galvanised base (£395).
Drucker was the first company in France to weave tropical reeds with strands of Rilsan (a durable material made from castor plant seeds) to create attractive, hand-made, rattan furniture.
The weave’s eye-zapping chequerboard effect and weather-resistant qualities ensure that Druker’s chairs have remained a bistro staple since the 19th century.
Few and Far has a Gitane-blue Druker Chaise Fouquet (£295) and several chequerboard designs: Metier tall-back chair (£460); Luxembourg armchair (£600); Jeu de Dames chaise longue (£2,100); circular tric-trac table (£850); and bridge table (£800).
Timeless café accessories at Few and Far include French carafes emblazoned with Ricard or Pernod logos (£25); classic ribbed tumblers (£3.60); and sundae glasses (£2.95).
Head to The Conran Shop (www.conranshop.co.uk) for folding French café tables in two sizes (£130 and £205), with polyester powder coating that won’t tarnish or fade if left outside.
Pair them with metal folding chairs (£46) or Tolix A chair (£130). Add a classic yellow parasol (£525, including base and cover) to complete the café look.
Habitat (www.habitat.co.uk) has jazzed up its bistro tables and café chairs with bright colours. The three-legged, folding Rosso table (£45) and folding Parc chair (£39) come in ocean blue, ink, saffron or ginger nut.
For comfort, check out the hand-wrought iron café armchairs (£99) with cushions (£35) and co-ordinating bistro table (£139) in John Lewis’s Royal Garden Elegance collection. Visit www.johnlewis.com.
Iconic French manufacturer Fermob has charming pink or purple heart-back metal chairs (from £140) and red or yellow slatted metal bistro chairs (£39.95) with matching slatted tables (from £1,160). Call 0870 974 9848.
If you prefer a sleek, aluminium look, head to Graham & Green, which stocks contemporary Tolix chairs (£125), armchairs (£135) and stools (£90, short and £139, tall). Visit www.grahamandgreen.co.uk.
Chunky Apilco - classic French café tableware - has been popular in London since the Seventies. The gold-rimmed, dark green cups and saucers (£14.50) are available from The French House (www.thefrenchhouse.net).
Or check out Le Café de Flore white china and glassware - with the logo of the café made famous by Jean-Paul Sartre - at Summerill & Bishop (www.summerillandbishop.com).
Traditional green Provençal pottery tableware is available at Divertimenti (dinner plate £13, salad bowl £56), which also sells handmade Solimene pottery from southern Italy (pasta plates and bowls £10.95 each). Visit www.divertimenti.co.uk.
Classic, ribbed tumblers (£3.30) are available from Richard Dare (www.richarddare.com), while Habitat’s Dakota comes in three sizes: tumble (£3), hi-ball (£3.50) and large hi-ball (£4.50).
Team them with a stylish, lead crystal Aura jug, designed by Jasper Conran for Waterford Crystal (£110 with stirrer) from John Lewis.
Chunky clear wine glasses and tumblers, made in Spain from recycled glass, are also available from John Lewis (£27 and £12 respectively for a set of six). Visit www.johnlewis.com.
Glasses with the iconic Perrier logo, specially made for French bars, are available online from The French House (£4.95 a pair). Visit www.thefrenchhouse.net.
Simple, stainless-steel bistro cutlery is perfect for alfresco dining and good value: 16-piece sets, with coloured handles, cost £15 at John Lewis.
A dressier version with bamboo-style handles from OKA (www.okadirect.com) costs £29 for a 44-piece set. The French House has waxed café tablecloths (£34.50). For original 19th century French tablecloths and napkins, head to Guinevere Antiques (www.guinevere.co.uk), or invest in a Twenties red-and-white tablecloth with matching napkins (£210 a set) at Summerill & Bishop.
And celebrate la vie en rose this summer.