Markus Thesleff on the relaunch of his Knightsbridge Italian restaurant Sale e Pepe

You quietly took over Sale e Pepe in 2022. What attracted you to the place?

I used to go there with my parents as a kid, I have lots of great memories. It was such an institution back then, attracting A-listers, business tycoons and royalty. And they continue to come. Sale e Pepe has amazing DNA but it is tired and needs love. It launched in 1974 and hasn’t changed much since. The owner (Toni Corricelli) knew it needed to change but he didn’t have the energy or knowhow to move it into the 21st century. Despite this, the business is in super financial shape. For a restaurant of its size (the Knightsbridge venue is just 1,300sq ft) the numbers are insane.  

How did the deal come about?

I have been interested in acquiring an Italian restaurant for a while. I was having lunch there and Toni and I just got chatting. He had a bunch of offers on the table from the big names, some of which had bid more than I did. But he has done very well for himself over the years. For Toni, it was about legacy and finding someone that could carry on the restaurant’s traditions while also bringing something new. So far we have taken a softly-softly approach – including improving the existing menu, tightening the service, putting in proper back of house systems and installing a sound system for the first time – but that will all change when we relaunch next month.

Tell us about your vision for Sale e Pepe 2.0

The space hasn’t been touched since the 1970s. It was a total relic. We’ve worked with a luxury residential agency called Hamilford Design because I didn’t want it to be a copy-and-paste job from other restaurant designs. The key inspirations are coming from Puglia (where Corricelli was born) and Milan. We will marry together the rusticness of southern Italy with the aesthetic of a luxury Milanese townhouse. It will be sophisticated, comfortable and homely. We are reducing the number of covers from 77 to around 72. Before, people were practically sitting on each other’s laps. We are expecting to launch mid next month, we’re not doing anything structural so the fit out will only take five weeks or so.

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