Sale e Pepe has been a Knightsbridge institution, but all good things come to an end. Never has this been one of my favourite restaurants, but is almost the only one that my parents ever go to, our latest meal has finally driven them away.
Let’s start with the physical element. The tables are so cramped that if you are slightly overweight you will have trouble squeezing in and god forbid you are on a date. I was practically sitting in my neighbour’s lap. Add to that, the room amplifies every noise and so inevitably one competes to be heard more and more loudly, leading to a deafening cacophony and a difficult dinner conversation.
And so, to the meal. The junior waiter was rude and slapdash. He interrupted our conversation to shove a basket of bread in our faces and when we requested for him to tell us what was on offer, he looked positively put out. He returned a few minutes later with “salmon crostini”, a perfunctory announcement, followed by him shoving wine glasses and side plates out of the way (into our laps) to put it down. In the end, I balanced the plate on my nose to make space. As much as it was a nice amuse bouche, it was soured by the awful delivery.
The starters were lovely. Very fresh crab coupled with creamy avocado and an accommodation for my uncle to have arrabiata to begin. Sadly, the mains that followed were underwhelming and, in my case, inedible. I ordered the oricchette with Italian sausage and broccoli with sun dried tomatoes, filled with the promise of a rich tomato sauce and a delicious meaty treat. The pasta was floury and doughy and swimming in what appeared to be a cream sauce – I am allergic to dairy. When we questioned the waiter, it turned out it was in fact butter. Also, not good. The broccoli had clearly been microwaved as it was reminiscent of the mushy veg served up at boarding school and the sausage was positively anaemic.
To add insult to injury, the inept and lazy junior waiter returned with the obligatory oversized pepper mill. He proceeded to lean over the (very tiny) table to sprinkle my father’s meal, only to mostly season his extremely expensive glass of wine. When this was pointed out, he looked totally nonplussed with why we were put out.
I sent my food back and plumped for an arrabiata replacement as there is little you can do to make that terrible, but it was microwaved! It was so hot, that kind of heat can only be derived from nuking it and I burnt my mouth.
Naturally, a party of 8 was treated to a reasonable rendition of Nessun Dorma for the kitsch value, but there is nothing endearing about this place anymore. Find one of the thousand other Italian restaurants in London, even Strada puts this to shame.