Taste in Dorchester given stylish makeover
PUBLISHED: 10:45 29 October 2015 | UPDATED: 10:56 29 October 2015
With just 12 days to work her magic, interior designer, Charlotte Starling, gave Taste in Dorchester a certain je ne sais quoi with a stylish makeover inspired by a vegetable
1. The act of tasting food or drink.
2. The sense of what is fitting, harmonious, or beautiful.
Taste is, in different ways, an essential part of being both a restaurateur and an interior designer. Earlier this year, these two types of taste met when I redesigned Louise and Todd Moffat’s restaurant. It’s name? Taste, of course.
This popular Dorchester venue in Trinity Street was always full, with locals popping in for lunch, coffee or afternoon tea. But after years with the same red, black and chrome décor, the place was looking a little tired and dated. For Louise and Todd, who also own taste*café@chesilbeach, the challenge was to revamp their Dorchester restaurant in an exciting way while still keeping its essence of friendliness, informality and dedication to delicious local produce.
When I first met Louise and Todd just before Christmas last year, it was clear that we were on the same wavelength. They wanted to find a new look that would set them apart from the crowd. “Something both modern and rustic,” suggested Louise. After we discussed budget and builders, Todd added: “And by the way we can only shut for twelve days.” Twelve days to gut, rewire, refurbish, repaint and redecorate an entire restaurant? It sounded like the pitch for an Ealing comedy!
Every scheme I put together starts with one thing – be it a fabric, a paint colour or a piece of furniture. This provides the inspiration and in this case I found some fabulous vinyl wallpaper featuring artichokes piled in wooden crates – it perfectly encapsulated the French-brasserie-meets-farmers-market vibe that I wanted to achieve. We agreed that the wallpaper would cover the restaurant’s back wall, and then I pulled out the colours from the paper - plummy purple, asparagus green, kingfisher blue, soft dove grey and egg yolk yellow – to create the look throughout.
The banquettes, for example, would be plum and yellow antiqued-look leather, beautiful against complimentary soft grey walls. The artichoke itself became Taste’s new logo, with artichoke-shaped candleholders on each table, while Todd and head chef Andrew Reed even created a special artichoke dish for the revamped menu.
There were two major space issues. The first was the existing bar, which was too high and intruded too far into the room – we would have to remove and rebuild it. The bar was the first thing you saw when you walked through the door, so it had to be eye-catching. Louise had seen a bar painted vibrant pea green and was determined to have one just like it, but the pea green just didn’t work with the other colours. She and I traded images on Pinterest, and gradually our ideas evolved. After testing numerous shades of green paint we finally settled on ‘asparagus’. A project like this can only work if it’s properly collaborative. Many more hours were spent discussing the merits of zinc versus concrete and leather banquettes versus velvet!
The second problem was the ceiling of suspended acoustic foam tiles. They were ugly and because light and airiness are two of my obsessions this ceiling had to go. The idea was to spray-paint the whole new ceiling and embrace a raw industrial look, juxtaposed with stunning decorative pendant lights hanging low to draw the eye down.
The first builder sucked his teeth, shook his head, rolled his eyes, and pointed out that we wouldn’t know what lay behind those tiles until we removed them, and then we’d only have two weeks to deal with whatever was lurking there. Our Ealing comedy could easily end up as a Hammer House of Horror.
We decided to risk it anyway (sleepless nights all round!) and JV Builders were brought on board to do the deed. Before we knew it, ‘Refurb Fortnight’ was on us. Mercifully, the ceiling tiles were hiding no dark secrets and removing them gave us a foot more headroom, which may not sound much but it makes a huge difference, especially when offset by the gorgeous striped pendant shades which Dorset-based TMO Lighting’s Helena Barrowcliff designed specially for us.
Electrician, Kevin McLaren rewired the place in record time. Moxom Joinery put together the new bar with zinc top. Then in went the banquettes and up went the wallpaper. We put moodboards in the window to give Taste’s devoted (and increasingly curious) clientele a tantalising glimpse of what it would look like.
With 24 hours to go before the re-opening, there was so much to do that Hammer Horror had turned into a near Mission: Impossible. But we knew we had to get it done come hell or high water. And somehow we made it.
Taste reopened on time the next morning, and within an hour the place was packed and the waiters in their new Tuscan butcher’s aprons were being rushed off their feet as usual. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive - both to the new look, the new exterior and the new menu.
It was one of the most exciting and rewarding projects I’ve worked on, and even now, when I walk past the window and see people inside enjoying themselves, I still get a frisson of pride that I was part of the team.
To the two definitions of ‘taste’ with which I started this piece, I would humbly add a third, biased but heartfelt. ‘Taste (n.) 3. A Dorchester restaurant well worth your custom.’