NESTLED in the heart of England’s smallest town, Lucca Enoteca is a delightful fusion of style and vibrancy.

The Italian restaurant, in High Street, Manningtree, boasts the combined elegance of an enoteca – a classy wine cellar – with the fun and bustle of a less formal, family-friendly trattoria.

It is hard to argue with that – or with Daily Mail food critic Tom Parker Bowles and wine guru Olly Smith, who listed the eatery as one of the 100 best places to eat and drink outside in England.

My family, including my two-year-old son, arrived at the restaurant, based in a 17th Century wool merchant’s house with original beams and exposed brickwork, on a delightfully sunny weekday evening and without a reservation.

Harwich and Manningtree Standard: Stylish - Lucca Enoteca in Manningtree. Picture: LuccaStylish - Lucca Enoteca in Manningtree. Picture: Lucca (Image: Lucca)

We were shown by a friendly waitress through the chic but busy restaurant to the inviting outside eating area – thanks to the warm weather and proximity to the appetising aromas emanating from the wood-fired pizza oven, we could easily imagine ourselves being in the courtyard of a restaurant in the Tuscan sunshine living La Dolce Vita.

The menu is enticing, offering a tempting selection of antipasti, Neapolitan-style pizzas using fresh local produce and carefully sourced regional Italian ingredients, as well as pastas and home-made desserts.

Starting with a selection of antipasti, the menu offers a range of delicious options, including bruschette with wood roast tomatoes, garlic, mozzarella di bufala, mussels marinara and seared garlic prawns and calamari with Tuscan beans.

But we opted for arancini - deep-fried saffron risotto balls filled with fior di latte mozzarella - served with tomato basil sauce (£7.95). It was as delicious as it sounds, with a wonderful velvety texture.

The main course boasts a medley of pasta dishes, from which we selected a handmade ricotta ravioli (£12.95) - with pomodoro sauce and a dollop of mascarpone, as well as spaghetti alla carbonara (£11.25), which included pancetta, pecorino, egg and black pepper.

The carbonara was simply the best I have ever tasted. It was rich, creamy and luxurious.

We also picked out a calzone raffaele with organic mushrooms, fior di latte mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and gorgonzola topped with Parma ham, fresh rocket and Parmesan (£12.95). It was fresh from the wood-fired pizza oven and delectable.

There was a lively, family atmosphere in the courtyard, for which we were grateful with our little ‘un.

Our young compatriot Maximilian chose the linguine meatballs from the children’s menu, which at £7.50 for two courses – including delicious gelati ice creams – was very reasonable.

Harwich and Manningtree Standard: Fun in the sun - Maximilian Dwan living La Dolce Vita at Lucca in ManningtreeFun in the sun - Maximilian Dwan living La Dolce Vita at Lucca in Manningtree (Image: Newsquest)

Despite the intriguing all-Italian wine list, in keeping with the spirit of this classy enoteca – we opted for a pint of Peroni Nastro Azzurro in the evening sunshine, but I think I shall have to return to sample a carafe of the tempting Mediceo Chianti wine from Tuscany.

The magic of Lucca is in its effortless transition from a sophisticated dining experience to a family-friendly eatery – it really does deliver on its promise to combine the elegance of an enoteca with the vivacity of a trattoria. And it has a real authentic feel.

This restaurant offers the best of both worlds, and left us with a small slice of la dolce vita – the sweet life – surprisingly found on the banks of the river Stour.