When Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, stumbled and fell calamitously to its knees in 2017 it required an eye-watering bailout from the depths of the Italian government coffers to keep life in its veins. It had circled the drain in 2013, and had narrowly avoided the abyss then too. The knock on effect of the ‘reduced circumstances’ of this fine old institution were significant.
Many businesses had relied on juicy collaborations with the bank, and many events had grown rather accustomed to their rolling, reliable sponsorships with BMPS – alas, what goes up must, as they say, come down. These lucrative incumbent contracts were cut and the bank drew in austere reins on its more social activities. The local business community suffered and many small businesses failed as a direct result. However, out of the ashes came new life and the new environment for commercial meritocracy provided fertile grounds for truly excellent businesses to really take flight; Salefino Vino & Cucina is one of them.
The real joy in Siena is just the simple pleasure of getting hopelessly and romantically entwined in its labyrinthine, cobbled streets and stumbling across architecture which is so casual in its unfathomable age that it’s almost too Italian to be Italian. Salefino, found at 1 Via degli Umiliati, is right on the edge of the awe-inspiring centro storico which makes it absolutely prime location for a drop in lunch or a leisurely end of day supper.
Alice Dal Dosso and Claudio Di Sante are the charming duo who brought Salefino to life, not only partners in the business they’re also partners in love. Their vision for Salefino stems from a bold but fundamentally well placed confidence in their own favourite Tuscan dishes on the basis that if they like it then the customer will like it, and in firm accordance with Ockham’s Razor, their simple solution to eternally perplexing gastronomic questions has been a smash hit.
Claudio and Alice have stripped back the theatricality of Italian cuisine, gone is the ghastly red chequered tablecloth and the gruesomely unwelcome sounds of the mandolin busker, fixing you with a gimlet eye until your stiff resolve breaks and you sign over your 401K for want of a peaceful meal. Salefino is all about the food.
The decor supports this gastro-centric philosophy as the restaurant interior is cosy, tasteful but simple. Bare wooden table surfaces are uncluttered with just candle or two, crisp white cotton napkins and the usual eating irons. The bistro-esque atmosphere is further enhanced by characiature style etchings hanging from the white washed walls and a huge blackboard is charmingly daubed with the day’s specials and wine selection in chalk.
The food at Salefino is sublime, detailed enough to be of evident skill and culinary merit, but authentic enough to never be pretentious. Alba, the General Manager, is extremely helpful and, on request, will be able to create an exemplary wine pairing to match a choice selection of the menu’s finest offerings.
Salefino started initially as quite the micro-business, but its well earned success enabled Alice and Claudio to rapidly grow the business and take on more staff. More recently they have opened an extremely slick wine bar opposite on the far side of the piazza. This venue, Salefino Bottiglieria, is the seductive and brooding side of the equation. It feels like an effortlessly dapper love child of a Madrid speakeasy and an on trend Soho wine bar. An oversized modern art-esque chandelier hangs in one corner of the lounge and a dimly lit trendy corner alcove which silently screens black and white movies sets the scene for instagrammable bacchant bliss.
Alice and Claudio have created a culinary offering which is truly remarkable in terms of its unfailing authenticity, glorious quality, but also of its measured balance between traditionalism and modernity. I gathered that the Piazza Del Sale had previously been a Bermuda Triangle of good, lasting quality in terms of good food and drink, but Salefino has well and truly ended that legacy and heralds in a sumptuous new one.
Via degli Umiliati, 1, 53100 Siena SI, Italy