Sale e Pepe – Italian Fine Dining In Knightsbridge

Sale e Pepe (Italian for ‘Salt and Pepper’) is one of those secrets you wouldn’t know about unless you knew about it. Unless someone mentioned it in passing or, better still, took you there. A two-minute equidistant stroll from Harrods and Harvey Nichols, it’s even closer to Sloane Street yet its location, on Pavillion Street, is one you’re unlikely to stumble across.

Having opened in 1974 it’s served everyone from Rod Steward to Priscilla Presley and after long-term owner Toni Corricelli retired in 2022, Markus Thesleff took over and has refurbished it with the intention of returning the restaurant to its former glory.

A marble-decked bar defines the entrance in front and on the left as you step through the unassuming doorway. A long, thin dining area stretches with low ceilings to the right. The floor is dark, patterned and wooden, the walls midnight blue, the seating and cushions hazelnut. The art is eclectic, works your eccentric auntie might have purchased on her travels; from modernist designs to Picasso-like sketches to pastel-coloured portraits. Several tables are crammed into the space which is practically full by 8pm. The atmosphere is energetic, convivial, never overbearing or disruptive. White tablecloths with candle lights are the icing on the cake, a nice finishing touch which, if you were in any doubt, provides for an individual but grown-up ambience, playful but elegant. 

The restaurant’s main ethos is sharing and whilst we sip a champagne and Negroni we’re advised to try three dishes for starters. My initial reaction when serving the Carpaccio Di Manzo is that they’ve forgotten the beef and just given us a plate of rocket. But the plate isn’t red; it’s white and is decorated to the edge with a generous portion of practically glowing raw beef. The beef is thicker than some carpaccios, has substance to it, and is served with sundried tomatoes, pine kernels and a lemon mustard dressing. It’s a fulsome and good start.

The Polpo Grigliato (grilled octopus) is a foot or so long tentacle which curves up and down an oblong plate and is served with borlotti bean sauce. The tender octopus is subtly chargrilled. The paprika provides a sweet, delicate spice and the sauce counters with a gentle earthiness. We’re expecting our third starter to be more of a traditional salad as it features in the menu’s Insalata section but there’s not a leaf in sight and the Granchio e Avocado (Cornish crab and avocado) is presented like a small turret. The crab meat is white, chunky and sweet and the avocado and concassé tomatoes add a sprightliness to this light and refreshing dish.

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As well as Pesce and Carne selections for mains, there’s a whole menu page dedicated to pasta which can be served gluten-free if so desired. Buccatini? Tagliatelle? Paccheri? Tortelloni? Ravioli? It’s all here. There are also four Signature dishes which are specifically for two to share. As well as Salt Baked Sea Bass and Bone-in Pan Fried Veal Chop, there are two Linguines. A clam one and Linguine All’Aragosta. We opt for the latter; Lobster Linguine with Datterino Tomatoes and Basil. The portion is generous and could quite easily serve four. It’s served in a metal dish with copper handles and is decorated at either end by burning red lobster shells and tails. Watercress is sprinkled on top to add green to the dish’s sunset colours.

The linguine is al dente and the ingredients aren’t complicated. They don’t need to be; the sauce tastes like a lobster bisque with a garlic and white wine bent and lobster meat, from both the main body and its claws, is scattered generously throughout. This dish is sumptuous and moreish and comfort food at its most luxurious. No real surprise; we do finish it all.  

As well as the white tablecloths, the waiters are dressed in formal attire; the old-school uniform of black suits and waistcoats with crisp white shirts. The service is slick. But at one point a waiter brings a woman at the table next to us (who came here with her parents thirty years ago) a cup of coffee. He trips. Spills it. The cup goes flying. The woman practically screams. Her companions jump. But something happens. Or nothing happens. The waiter breaks into a broad grin. The diners looked confused. No coffee has been split; it’s a gag. The waiter laughs as if it’s a cue. Everyone suddenly gets it. The woman laughs. Her companions laugh. We laugh. One senses this is a tried and tested formula but one that never fails.

In spite of the floor’s efficiency, those working make it look effortless and even enjoyable. Elisa, our hostess for the evening, embodies this spirit and has an infectious theatrical flamboyancy which suggests nothing is too much trouble. She proves her love of Sal e Pepe by confiding she even comes here to eat with her boyfriend on her days off. In reality, the menu is so full of mouth-watering dishes, Elisa had to guide us through each section.

Desert is no different. But Elisa can’t decide which her favourite is so we finish how we started and share not two but three dishes. The Brownie Al Cioccolato is, essentially, three different sweet snacks masquerading as one. A boule of vanilla ice cream dripping with caramel sauce sits on a chocolate cookie which sits on a large, warm chocolate brownie. The vanilla tastes natural and melts into the cookie’s crumble and the brownie’s gooey softness. The Affogato is a no-nonsense Italian classic – vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso poured over it, fusing, therefore, into a shock of coffee ice cream. And finally, what Italian meal could be properly completed without the classic of the classics? The tiramisu is served straight from the tray and like in every restaurant, has a unique identity. It’s sloppy and viscous and practically melts on the plate. Texturally, it’s thinner on the sponge and more generous on the mascarpone and whilst it tastes less alcoholic, the almond flavour from the amaretto pleasantly dominates. 

We finish the meal with a few shots of limoncello and conjecture that Toni, the old owner, must be very happy with the new incarnation of his flamboyant legacy.

Contact Details

Address: 9-15 Pavilion Rd, London SW1X 0HD

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