A LITTLE corner of authentic Italy has arrived in Henley-in-Arden High Street.
The reopening of Dolce Caffe last month marks a proud moment for its owner Roberto Cukaj, whose business marks his first UK venture since moving from Modena, in northern Italy, in 2016.
He ran his restaurant there for seven years after learning the trade since entering his first kitchen at the age of just 16.
Now 41, he has made his home in Warwickshire with his wife and two children– and is making big changes at Dolce Caffe, including extended opening hours into the evening.
He said: “We had visited friends in Stratford before so we knew it would be a beautiful area for our family to settle and grow up in.
“I spent a couple of years working for other bars and restaurants in the area but always looked out for opportunities to start another business. Henley is a lovely quiet community and I saw there was an opportunity to introduce some authentic Italian food and wine, so I decided to bring my experience of Italian cuisine to the community.”
He added: Although the name of the business was Dolce Caffe, I realised it didn’t actually have a lot to do with Italian food. So we introduced authentic fresh Italian meats such as Salami and Italian ham, which we source from the butchers at The Farm in Snittersfield, as well as Italian cheeses and wines. And we introduced an Italian deli breakfast option with Italian sausage.”
And 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.
Dolce Caffe is now also open in the evenings, until 10pm (9pm on Sundays) and offers paninis, piattini, bruschetta and the already-popular Italian Charcuterie sharing boards of meats and cheeses.
Breakfast – offered in British or Italian style – is available until 12pm each day.
And fine wine connoisseurs can select from more than 20 Italian labels.
Roberto said: “I extended the hours because I wanted to give customers a better opportunity to enjoy our wines and cocktails in the evening. And we introduced a Happy Hour on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.”
Roberto, whose cooking was inspired by famous Italian chef and restaurateur Masimo Botura, prides himself on offering the personal touch when it comes to the customer experience.
He said: “I like to chat to 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.”
My husband and I had an excellent experience dining at Dolce Caffe last week. We took full advantage of our host’s Italian heritage by ordering a Selection of Ham and Salami Tagliere and Italian Cheese Tagliere on a mixed sharing board for two.
Roberto was proudly informative about the provenance of all his ingredients and helpful in recommending a fine wine which would best complement our dish. (Italian of course!)
There is also a fish sharing board as well as a tempting selection of nine Paninis (tomato avocado and salad; tomato and Mozzarella, Parma Ham and Mozzarella; cooked ham and Fontina cheese; pancetta and Brie; tuna and salad, salmon and Taleggio soft cheese; Mortadella and Fortina cheese and Italian salami.)
There are four types of Bruschette – a classic Italian appetiser – and Piattini (small plates), including smoked salmon, Parma Ham and Bufala Mozzarella and steak bavett.
The Italian flavours can still be savoured in the mornings as well with Roberto’s popular British and Italian Deli Breakfast. Plus there’s an irresistible choice of sweet treats on display. We tried the Cannoli, hand-piped by Roberto himself. The fried pastry dough shells filled with ricotta cheese, was a first for my tastebuds – but most definitely not the last! I’ll be returning to Dolce Caffe again soon, the Cannoli sealed the deal on that!
And with 25 varieties of the finest Italian wines to wash it all down with, it’s no wonder word is starting to get round that there’s a popular new hang out in Henley – and you can now appreciate the food, drink and ambience that Roberto has on offer, until 10pm. (9pm on Sundays)