We were promised an Italian buffet and show and boy did we get it. Not three hours after we landed in Florence, we walked into what would turn out to be a highlight of our holiday. Fabio Picchi has built a reputation as a culinary master in Tuscany, if not an eccentric one. Ristorante Cibreo and Trattoria Cibreo are his famous Florentine restaurants both offering true Tuscan food. This visit we found ourselves at Teatro de Sale. Clearly his passion project, the restaurant is a members only theatre that feeds ninety hungry mouths a buffet meal followed by a show.
The name Teatro del Sale, translates to theatre of salt though the irony in the name is that bread is Florence and Tuscany is baked without salt.
Foreigners are entitled to five euro annual membership which is only attained after agreeing to abide by a rigorous set of rules. Afterwards we were shuffled into the dining room, paid our 35 euros a piece, before joining the masses collecting bottled water and carafes of wine and choosing seats on shared tables.
The dinner service itself is a bit of a performance and first up was antipasto. Crowds elbowed their way to the plates piled high with 10 different type of antipasto – eggplant, potatoes, artichokes, olives, bread salad and more, careful not to fill up too fast. The real night commenced when Chef Picchi himself charismatically appeared in an open window of the glassed in kitchen and announced his starter course of a delicious clear tomato jelly. No sooner had he made his announcement, 90 strong diners beelined to the window to claim their stake of the course. The jelly was smooth, rich and slightly spicy. Well worth the elbowing.
The next 2 hours felt like a food marathon. In fact it was. No sooner had we scoffed down one course, another would be yelled out and we would be quick to race to the serving station to collect that course. Food wasting is frowned upon, but going back for seconds is encouraged – so long as you bring back your dirty dishes to porter’s window.
Getting to the food, it was in short, amazing. Tender meatballs were followed by grilled sardines, then an amazingly rich clam soup, steamed mussels, mushroom risotto and ragu pasta. At this point we were getting a little concerned (and full) as we realised we were still on primi’s. The onslaught of food continued with roasted vegetables, Picchi’s signature ‘bone’ bread, braised tripe and roast chicken. If that already wasn’t enough food to feed an army, a selection of 2-3 desserts were brought out to end the meal.
Exactly 2 hours after we had entered the doors, tables disappeared, glasses were cleared and we rearranged our seating to face the theatre stage. Each night the teatro puts on a show and tonight was no different as we were treated to 2 acoustic guitarists. At that point, drunk and full, in my mind there was no better way to end what was already a memorable night.
Teatro del Sale is probably not an ideal dining experience for everyone. But if you can get over the self-service, occasional food fighting (all in good fun) and the requirement to speed eat, it definitely is something special. The food is amazing, portions generous and combined with the show, unlimited wine and bottled water I guarantee you’ll walk out thinking it’s the best 35 euro you’ll ever spend.
As unfortunately photography is prohibited, I don’t have anything but semi-drunken memories to go off on for this meal!
Teatro del Sale
Via de’ Macci, 118
50122 Florence, Italy