Sale e Tabacchi, Italian, Mitte / Kreuzberg border

George Vernon Hudson, I don’t like you. So it’s 1898 and things are a bit dim, you don’t get enough daylight hours after work to pursue your entomological pursuits, I get it. But why, pray tell, are we still doing this? This being ‘daylight-saving-time’. I’m no scientist but my instincts tell me that if the days are getting shorter in the winter anyhow, perhaps if we are going to be screwing around with time, we should be doing it the other way around so that we add an hour of sunshine rather than subtract one? I don’t know, just and idea.My other big gripe with the lack of light is the murky yellow photos I will now be posting on the website. Speaking restaurants, I would hazard a guess that a good 70% of Berlin establishments are closed for lunch opening only at 6:30 for dinner. Meaning my pictures look like they were taken by a cusk eel, which is a misleading name because it’s not an eel but a fish which has been spotted some 8,000 meters below sea level, get it? Really deep underwater hence the dark pictures?! (David Lebovitz wrote a great guide to blogging, in it he quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald who said “An exclamation point is like laughing at your own jokes.” Too late, silly is the fabric from which I was cut.).Back to the review. I’ve been to Sale e Tabacchi a few times, usually when friends suggest it as an eating spot. The only colour present in the front and back dining room is blue, the blue of the Sale e Tabacchi sign. There are no paintings, the large half orbed lights that line the walls and ceiling are so striking, I can’t imagine any art that would stand up to them. The waiters are all male, in floor length white aprons, they address everyone in Italian, and if you don’t order properly (Primo, Secondo and so on) they just hover over you, pen poised until you (I) succumb to the guilt and hastily add a dish.

For all that authenticity in decoration, waiter behavior and menu, I don’t like the food. I was trying to figure out why that is last week. As a table of 15, I had a good overview over what the dishes looked like (good) and everyone seemed to be enjoying them. I ordered 2 starters. Octopus with celery (€11.50), which was bland, the only highlight being the inspired addition of celery which I had never encountered before. Then I had the vitello tonnato (€10.50), which came straight from the fridge and whose puddle of tuna sauce was too reminiscent of something else. There were two slices of seedy lemon so mangled, they looked like they’d been fished out of a bin somewhere when the kitchen ran out of lemons (I’m sure that’s not the case but that was what the story their appearance told me).

I think the lemon slices surmise what I don’t like, the starch in the tablecloths belies an inelegance and a definite lack of flavour in the food (the vitello tonnato reminded me in taste and temperature of the tuna may sandwich from Pret A Manger in London). Hrabi had the tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce (€9.50), the pasta was overcooked (2nd time we’ve had this here) and the sauce still had the tang of the tinned tomatoes that had been used, it tasted like something I would make for Layla in a hurry.

It’s not like I can say this and then point you in the direction of an Italian restaurant I really like. Both my local Boccondivino and the fancy Francucci in Charlottenburg have served us aglio e olio (a plain pasta of garlic and olive oil) with burnt garlic. You can’t eat a dish if it has burnt garlic in it and you shouldn’t because the foulness of it will linger with you for the best part of the day. But the worst part? A chef knows when the garlic is burnt, the block down the street knows when the garlic has burnt because it stinks. Sending the dish out regardless sends out one message: “I don’t care.”

Italian food is an elusive category, up there with dim sum I would say.

Sale e Tabacchi
Rudi-Dutschke-Straße 23
Mitte / Kreuzberg
T. 030 2521155
Subway: Kochstraße

16 Responses to Sale e Tabacchi, Italian, Mitte / Kreuzberg border

  1. Mamma mia, the Vitello Tonnato looks horrible.

  2. I always wondered about this place. I’ve been inside the doors twice and then something has stopped me each time; once the garden was full and I was really looking for an al fresco lunch, and second time the crowd were so stiff I couldn’t bring myself to sit there and look at them during dinner. Now I’m glad I didn’t spend the money :)

    By the way, the yellow of the lighting can be corrected in post production or perhaps even on your camera by adjusting the White Balance settings…

  3. Céleste Joly says:

    Who’ld have known? Some 10 (15?!) years ago, I used to spend every other weekend in Berlin and I would walk past this place and dream of it, the italian chic representing something sophisticated I could not afford at that time. I never would have thought it would still exist! And I’m happy I didn’t come across it last week because I could’nt have resisted going in and would have obviously been so disappointed! Sorry you had to endure not only bad tasting but also terrible looking food! And thanks for sharing, next time I see this place, I’ll just be reminded of my youthfull dreams ;)

    • It is really chic, it wouldn’t be out of place in Milan. The food isn’t so much terrible as it is uninspiring.
      Really nice to meet you by the way and your children are just beautiful.

  4. Luisa says:

    Ugh. I still want to try that Italian place in Hermsdorf you raved about.

  5. Laura says:

    Have you tried the food at Italian restaurant Hartweizen (Torstr. 96) yet? Would love to see a post on it!

  6. steph says:

    Sale e Tabacchi. I do enjoy it. It has all the charm of its grumpy owner…
    I must admit, I go there a lot because I work around the corner. The octopus salad is my favourite and I have never felt it tasting bland. I will go tomorrow and order the octopus salad now I am concerned…..

    • Hi Steph! : ) I do love the way it looks, the lighting, the waiters but I don’t find the good enough to go out of my way to eat there. But any way, I haven’t found an Italian restaurant I love in Berlin - period. Except for one out in Stieglitz but the owner always sees Hrabi and sends out too much food!

      • Have you tried Pappa e Ciccia? One of my faves. Lavanderia supposed to be good too, and also De Baffi.

      • I have tried Pappa e Ciccia, think S e T is actually better. Lavanderia was fun, not bad actually, the concept was so much fun and 35 Euros per head for a hell of a lot of food was pretty impressive. Haven’t tried De Baffi or Aromi.
        We were supposed to have coffee yesterday I just remembered…
        Today? Tomorrow afternoon? Are you dropping by the UBerlin birthday? Apparently I’m making cake… No, I really am : )

      • P e C have limited menu but I love that everything is so freshly made and consistently good. Today I have to look at a venue for our anniversary bash (Jan) so bit limited time-wise but tomorrow coffee sounds good, will be @ UBerlin also, looking fwd to the cake :D

  7. And of course Aromi, esp Sunday brunch.

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