Alternative Essex – short break at The Sun Inn exploring Constable Country:
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Anyone visiting Essex for the first time expecting scenes from the well-known reality TV show ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ is in for a wonderful surprise…
Dedham is a complete contrast; a beautiful, picture-book village, steeped in history and charm.
You enter the village along an attractive winding road with overhanging trees, which brings you straight onto the high street, lined with stunning houses of grandeur on one side and a magnificent church on the other, standing proud and inviting, the sun shining through its gables. There is a traditional butcher, a bakery, a couple of tea shops, one gift shop and two pubs – one of which is The Sun Inn, where were lucky enough to be staying.
A five-minute walk through the village takes you to the River Stour, where a pleasant evening stroll along its banks immediately plunges you into the beautiful landscape that inspired so many of Constable’s paintings – although do be aware the cows here roam freely, drinking at the water’s edge and reminiscent of those pictured in so many of his works.
St Mary the Virgin, Dedham:
Walking back to the village, don’t forget to look into St Mary the Virgin church. A perfect blend of actively run local church and thriving community working in harmony, the magnificent 15th Century building – described by the poet John Betjeman as one of the grand examples of Perpendicular style – embodies strength and grace. The interior is so light, airy and inviting that one almost forgets to look at the Constable, hanging in pride of place in the gables.
Flatford Mill near Dedham – Constable Country:
Make time to visit The National Trust’s Flatford Mill, Constable exhibition and Wildlife Gardens; for the price of the car-park you can spend as little as an hour or take all day to meander. This really is a place of natural beauty and delight, with a number of routes set out for any level of fitness or interest carefully selected to lead you through the countryside portrayed in so many of Constable’s paintings. You’ll pass the mill on land once owned by his father, which inspired the artist’s iconic ‘Flatford Mill (Scene on a Navigable River)’. It’s a pleasant 45-minute walk from Dedham or 15 minutes by car.
In the modest yet informative exhibition centre, you can learn all about this and other works, his life and his inspirations, before popping down to the tea shop nestled by the water’s edge. It’s a perfect place to sit and sample delicious cakes, homemade food and a wide range of beverages including local cider, wine and beer.
In fact, it’s almost impossible when visiting the stunning village of Dedham, and driving through East Bergholt to Flatford, not to picture yourself in any one of the famous Constable scenes. Apart from the odd car or two, the place seems to have retained all of its original charm and beauty. It’s well worth a visit, to explore for the day, or longer, taking in the local and surrounding areas.
A comfortable and luxurious stay at The Sun Inn, Dedham:
We stayed at The Sun Inn which is an old coaching inn dating back to the 15th Century. Situated on Dedham High Street, this friendly and attractive pub and restaurant is ideally located to explore Constable country.
It provides the perfect combination of cosy and elegant, each room sympathetically reflects the building’s original features; open fires, low hung beams and original windows. The dining room and resplendent living room are painted in a palette of rich blues, teal and grey, which lends a lovely backdrop to the rich jewel-coloured furnishings.
There are 7 bedrooms, each styled individually. We stayed in ‘Dovecote’, an elegant room at the back of the inn overlooking the courtyard. It was decorated in soft neutral colours with the high ceiling clad in tongue and groove featuring a modern hanging light. I was delighted with the sumptuous bed, its Brinkhaus pillows and duvet and the crisp white linen adorned with soft woollen throws. The stylish en-suite provided plenty of divine-smelling Miller House toiletries, luscious bathrobes and fluffy towels, and a large walk-in shower. There’s an HDTV, iPod docks and free Wi-Fi; refreshments came on a tray set with fresh coffee, a great selection of speciality teas – and the charming touch of homemade flapjacks – all in all a very lovely room with exceptional attention to detail.
Dining at the Sun Inn:
Dinner was in the Inn’s dining room. Head Chef Jack Levine’s inviting menu provided a fabulous choice with some culinary delights for meat eaters, veggies and pescatarians alike. It’s a great selection of modern cuisine with a playful twist; along with some staple classics including a selection of rare breed 42-55 day aged steaks.
The staff were very friendly and attentive, and our waiter Alex had a very good knowledge of the wine list.
We were eating fish, so we chose an excellent Spanish Albariño, Pazo Señorans, Rias Baixas, which was high in acidity, fresh and mineral, with citrus notes.
We kicked off the evening with a basket of crusty bread and tapenade and some tasty smoked haddock croquettes, perfectly crunchy on the outside and deliciously creamy on the inside, served with a divine sweet and tangy but light mustard seed and watercress velouté
The starter portion of ricotta agnolotti with Crown Prince squash was cooked to perfection, filled with a delicate balance of squash and ricotta, a sprinkle of walnuts, sage and some cutely cubed squash.
We were equally impressed with our main course.
Line caught Sea Bass was beautifully presented. The delicate flesh was wonderfully juxtaposed with tender cuttlefish in a rich and intense tomato sauce, served with black crisp squid ink crackers.
Roast cod was superbly cooked, clean white flesh with a crispy skin, complemented by little gems of Jerusalem artichoke which cut through with citrus tones of delicately freshly sliced orange. The hazelnut butter was initially a surprise as it contained an autumnal gathering of a squirrel’s nut stash, but complimented the dish by giving it texture.
The Blackberry Baked Alaska was pretty spectacular – the ideal autumnal pudding, light and fluffy, the perfectly tinged meringue bedecked with blackberries; cutting into the soft white fluffy topping revealed a creamy yet fresh berry mousse.
Finally…. a plate of English cheeses and crackers…. and a seat by the open fire… perfect!
Breakfast at the Sun Inn:
Breakfast was served in the dining area and offered a fine selection of cereals, fresh fruit, croissants, cold meats and cheeses as well as cooked breakfast. We enjoyed poached eggs cooked to perfection; along with plenty of fresh coffee to kick start the day.
Breakfast left us more than ready for a country walk…
A Sister in Colchester – the Church Street Tavern:
The Sun Inn also has a sister property in Colchester. So on Saturday morning, after a visit to Flatford Mill and a wonderful walk through the countryside, we took a short drive to the busy Essex town of Colchester for lunch at the Church Street Tavern.
In the centre of Colchester, at number 3 Church Street, tucked discreetly away behind the high street…it was a treat to find the Tavern. The restaurant itself is upstairs, occupying a large, bright, airy space adorned with colourfully bold artworks, hand-painted murals on the block-coloured walls and funky soft furnishing in velvets and leather. We were lucky enough to be visiting on a beautiful autumnal day and the sunshine was pouring through the windows…
Head chef Ewan’s inviting menu had us salivating even after our substantial dinner the previous night! The staff were absolutely lovely and made our visit especially enjoyable.
There was a fabulous choice of starters, light-bites and mains, and there was also a very reasonable set menu available, with two courses at £15.50 and three courses at £20.50.
Small slices of delightful light, fluffy and creamy-salty cod roe were served on toast, with watercress.
The Smoked Haddock & Keen Jeddah Soufflé was as light as a feather, with a crispy cheesy topping that provided the perfect balance to the soft soufflé, surrounded by a velvety velouté with little florets of cauliflower.
We also enjoyed a salad of roasted sweet and nutty squash, complimented by crunchy pumpkin seeds, sage and crisp radicchio, with small chunks of blue cheese and an intensely sweet purée.
For mains we tried tasty plump steamed mussels cooked in a classic shallot, white wine and cream sauce, served with crisp French fries.
Loch Duart Salmon with hispi cabbage, mussels, clams and fennel was quite delicious, the salmon remarkably fresh and tender; a crème Fraiche sauce infused with tarragon made the perfect accompaniment.
I can highly recommend our side dish ‘Jansson’s Temptation’ a toothsome buttery potato and onion gratin with a crunchy crumble topping.
And some excellent puy lentils cooked with Swiss chard and white wine.
Whatever you do, do save some room for desserts when you visit the Church Street Tavern in Colchester.
The pear tart was to die for, an utterly delicious autumnal, melt-in-the-mouth soft pear tart, spiced with cinnamon with lashings of calvados ice cream.
The softly stewed tender plum and light amaretto semifreddo was also rather divine…
White wine: 2016 Réserve de Gassac Blanche, Mad de Daumas France- Fresh rounded, soft and elegant.
Red wine: 2016 Palazzo del Mare Sicily – red a fruity red wine with a hint of spice.
The Church Street Tavern is a great little find if you’re in Colchester. It provides excellent, reasonably priced food and the super friendly service in very pleasing surroundings.
For any of you with negative preconceptions of Essex, I urge you to think again. Dedham and its surrounding area is the perfect antidote to escape city life and become ensconced in village life and beautiful countryside. I can highly recommend The Sun Inn as the perfect place to relax and unwind with sumptuous surroundings and food to die for. For those with time to spare, why not round off your stay with a visit to its sister restaurant, Church Street Tavern for more fine food, delicious drinks menu and friendly staff who couldn’t make you feel more welcome to this lovely County.
I was a guest of The Sun Inn and Church Street Tavern.
The Sun Inn
High Street, Dedham,
Essex CO7 6DF
Church Street Tavern
3 Church Street, Colchester,
Essex C01 1NF
Tel: 01206 564325
Open Wednesday – Sunday
For more information about Flatford Mill, please check the National Trust website
If you are looking for more formal hotel accommodation, do check our review of Down Hall Country House Hotel
If you are travelling by ferry and looking for accommodation in Harwich, check our review of The Pier Boutique Hotel
Thinking of visiting yourself? Why not pin this post for later