An al fresco feast

With a garden designed to bring people together, creative cook Ramona Afonso loves to lay a sumptuous table outside, celebrating her Lebanese heritage with an inspiring combination of traditional dishes and contemporary classics.

Photographs Elza Cooper


Welcome drinks

Mini gin bar with homemade lavender & vanilla syrup and a grapefruit & black pepper shrub


Luxurious cheeseboard

Hummus and chilli olives

Blue cheese and beetroot terrine

Main course

Chicken Parmesan

Lebanese grape leaves

Kofta with tzatziki


Vanilla panna cotta with berries

Mini gin bar

“I set up a DIY gin bar for my 40th birthday party held in my garden in October, and my guests loved getting creative with their own drinks,” says Ramona. “I came up with a few surprises, like infusing whole chillies in a bottle of gin for about a month beforehand – this added a delicious twist!” Start with a variety of gins and good quality tonics displayed in ice buckets so that they stay cold. Also set out a pretty buffet of aromatics such as star anise, dried chilli flakes, cinnamon sticks, lavender sprigs and rose petals along with sliced citrus (lemon, lime and grapefruit are all delicious) and fresh cucumber ribbons. And make sure you have enough glasses and ice!"

A mini gin bar with homemade syrup. Get the recipe for the grapefruit & black pepper shrub and the lavender & vanilla syrup

“Because there are lots of breakables at the dinner table and the kids often get bored of the adult conversation, I pack their dinner in a picnic basket with an extra sweet treat or two for them to enjoy. They love it!” says Ramona.

Anthea, Constantine and Gabriel Fortuna (left) joined Nuno, Ramona, Aurora and little Luna-Scarlett Afonso for the party. Ramona and Gabriel’s mom Maureen Fortuna helped with the preparation.


Luxury cheeseboard with homemade hummus and pickled chilli olives.  

Blue cheese and beetroot terrine. Get the recipe.

Along with roses and vine leaves from the garden, Ramona decorates her table with tempting fruits such as strawberries and grapes. Not only does it look inviting, but guests can also snack on the fruit later in the evening.

Main course

Chicken Parmesan. Get the recipe.

The Lebanese just chuck; we don’t even measure! Everyone has their own unique style when it comes to cooking. – Ramona

Lebanese grape leaves. Get the recipe.

“The older generation of Lebanese women, like my mother Maureen, believes that the first grape leaves on the vine are the most tender and make the best stuffed grape leaves,” says Ramona. “You can save time by buying pickled grape leaves from the deli, but remember to rinse them well before filling them. Bear in mind that store-bought leaves might be tougher than those that are freshly picked.”

Kofta with tzatziki. Get the recipe.

“When my mother’s sister Aunt Tilly passed away, the family made a special recipe book full of all our favourites, including kofta, and anecdotes to remember her by. The kofta almost never make it to the table – they’re so good,” says Ramona.


Vanilla panna cotta. Get the recipe.

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April 2023

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