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REVIEW: An Italian Brunch at Dolce Caffe, Henley-in-Arden

Brunch with Prosecco? Weekend mornings will never be the same again.

Roberto Cukaj with two of this team

Bonjourno! Love your authentic Italian cheeses, salami, desserts and wines? If it’s a ‘Si’ we’ve discovered a genuine Italian café with a new owner from Modena in Northern Italy tucked away on the historic high street of Henley in Arden.

Menu choices range from paninis and piattini to avo bruschetta, an Italian deli breakfast option with Italian sausage and the already-popular Italian Charcuterie sharing boards of meats and cheeses.

And fine wine connoisseurs can select from more than 20 Italian labels.

 

The lowdown

Restauranteur Roberto Cukaj moved to the UK from Modena, in northern Italy, with his wife and two children in 2016. and took over at Dolce Caffe in May. He saw an opportunity to introduce some authentic Italian food and wine to this lovely Warwickshire town.

Although the name of the business was Dolce Caffe, he realised it didn’t actually have a lot to do with Italian food, so he sourced fresh Italian meats such as salami and Italian ham, from the butchers at The Farm in Snittersfield – a 2019 Muddy Award winner (Best Farm Shop).

Not only does the 41-year-old father-of-two like to showcase the best Warwickshire has to offer, but he makes a trip to London once a week to source authentic Italian cheeses, desserts, and wines. Many of his ingredients are DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta – which means Protected Designation of Origin) a stamp of origin and quality assurance, including Parmigiano and Parma Ham and Bufala Mozzerella.

 

The vibe

Bang in the town centre in a characterful building adjoining a trendy-looking women’s boutique it’s not a huge space, with seven or so to tables inside and bistro tables and chairs outside on the pavement area. It’s on the high street road, so not ideal if you’ve got explorer-type toddlers, but still, a very pleasant place to sit.

Breakfast and brunch – British or Italian-style – is served until 12pm and is always a popular choice. On the day I popped in to do my review it was Father’s Day and very busy, but as the afternoon progressed it quietened down.

Dolce Caffe is now also open in the evenings until 10pm (9pm on Sundays) so customers can enjoy wines and cocktails in the evening – there’s even a Happy Hour on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I’ve not been in the evening yet but hear they’re charming, with generous sharing platters and excellent wine.

Artwork for sale includes a painting of Cillian Murphy as Thomas Shelby in Peaky Blinders on a wall next to a photo of the Rialto Bridge in Venice.

Dogs are welcome and there were two sitting by their owners’ feet at a table in the window. You can park on the high street, just a few minutes’ walk away.

 

Scoff and quaff

A great little menu we plumped for an Italian cheese board including Primo sale Siciliano, Italian brie and Parmesan served with sun-dried tomatoes, olives, fresh fruit, balsamic vinegar breadsticks and honey, a tomato, mozzarella, and avocado salad panini, smoked salmon and avocado salad and avocado bruschetta. As you can tell we love our avocado.

From the breadsticks through to the shared Sardinian Pistachio Cannoli, Banoffee cheesecake, and Lavazza coffee, the food was bellisimo. There’s always an amazing array of cakes and Italian pastries you only usually see in authentic delis in London or Italy.

Banoffee cheesecake

Sardinian Pistachio Cannoli

One of Roberto’s top tips: Morrisons does a great Moderna balsamic vinegar and Organic extra virgin olive oil from Florence – you heard it here first!

A thumbs up emoji for the booze too. I had a chilled glass of Prosecco Villa Giulleta which complemented the celebratory brunch.

Roberto’s cooking is inspired by famous Italian chef and restaurateur Masimo Botura, and he prides himself on offering the personal touch.

He said: “I like to chat with my customers about their food and wine and explain their origins. You can go to a lot of places and have a nice meal or have a nice glass of wine, but people can’t fully appreciate what they’ve eaten or where it’s come from. I spend as much time as I can front of house rather than stuck in the kitchen out of sight. Seeing my customers enjoy their food – and the service – is very important to me.

“All the wines are specially chosen by me. And we make wine recommendations because we know it’s important for the customer to enjoy the right food and wine pairing, the right wine to complement what they are eating – all from Italy of course.”

 

THE MUDDY VERDICT:

Good for: Lovers of fresh Italian cuisine, and families. A relaxed, friendly continental atmosphere. Perfect for a fresh and tasty breakfast, weekend brunch or Italian pastries and coffee by day and date nights and gatherings with friends for sharing boards, Italian wines, cocktails and happy hour by night. Any excuse really.

Not for: Ooh hard one – what’s not to like! Dolce Caffe is a casual spot, so if you like white table clothes and silver cutlery, you’ll need to look elsewhere. Small but perfectly formed – it may be tricky to find a large enough table if you’re part of a big gang. Techies who like to check out the menu online before they go. Be spontaneous!

££: Very reasonably priced food and coffee. At £4.50 – £9.99 for brekkie, brunch, and cheeseboards, you can’t go wrong.

High Street, Henley-in-Arden, B95 5BY, 01564 794 385, http://dolce-caffe.co.uk

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