The Sun Inn

Essex, East Anglia, United Kingdom Book from

Reviewed by Nadine Mellor
A 15th-century village coaching inn revitalised as a popular gastro pub-with-rooms in the heart of Constable country
The Sun Inn has always been at the centre of Dedham village life, from its origins as a late medieval coaching inn then bustling 18th-century tavern, to a hotel post-war. Piers Baker, a young London pub manager, was looking for a rural escape, and discovered this (by now) run-down swirly-carpeted pub and spotted it was ripe for an elegant restoration.

In 2003 The Sun Inn reopened with a new buttercup-yellow exterior and a welcoming dining room in the revamped stables. Daily changing menus feature local produce given a Mediterranean twist. The convivial bar offers local craft beers and a remarkable wine list. Upstairs, 7 romantic rooms have been transformed with heritage paint colours, good-quality bathroom fittings and pocket-sprung beds, yet retain their centuries-old identities. Through the original coaching arch there's a sociable terrace and a large pub garden, useful for families. Stroll through the village, take a boat out on the River Stour, visit the church, admire (almost) unchanged Constable views across the Water Meadows, and return to the Inn for the best of English hospitality.

Highs

  • Dedham is the quintessential picture-postcard English village, whose setting defines Constable country
  • Delicious local fare served in the restaurant, plus a great wine list - all reasonably priced
  • The Inn has character, history and charm in spades
  • Friendly, unpretentious and smiley service (we found the place packed with locals, always a good sign)
  • Easily found, just a few minutes off the A12, and under 2 hours from London

Lows

    • Not for fans of straight lines, immaculate finishes and non-sloping floors
    • Noise from the bar and restaurant does travel up to the rooms (Dovecot and Butchers are probably the quietest) but only until closing time
    • Some rooms are small
    • Don't expect oodles of amenities
    • It's on the main road, but traffic is light

Best time to go

This part of Essex has its charms year-round, from snuggling by the blazing fireplaces of a winter's evening to strolling by the Stour in the summer. But most will appreciate the Water Meadows and Lowland landscape during the late spring, summer and early autumn.

Our top tips

Be sure to browse the wine list intently - there are hidden gems here. And the pub also serves intriguing local craft beer, stout and cider. Check out whether there are any wine tasting dinners scheduled for when you're visiting. Staff are also pleased to talk to you about the provenance of the food and drink. No wonder there's always a convivial atmosphere!

Great for...

Family
Foodie
Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Inn
  • 7
  • Restaurant and bar (open daily)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Bicycles Available
Room: Standard: Boudicca

Rooms

All 7 bedrooms come in different shapes and sizes, as befits this historic building. Expect half-timbered walls, sloping and creaking floors, and original details: Elsa, Boudicca and Constable have fireplaces, Wards has ancient wattle-and-daub exposed on one wall.

Five original rooms are accessed up stairs beside the Oak Room adjacent to the bar, and all except Wards overlook the road. The 2 newer rooms, Butchers and Dovecot, created in 2011 above the dining room, are entered via a half-open Elizabethan staircase - they can be taken together by a larger family or friends seeking additional privacy. Dovecot can be set up as a double or twin and has a walk-in shower separated by a partition.

We stayed in Elsa, which has original panelling and beams, a four-poster bed, and supposedly a ghost, who we didn't have the pleasure of meeting - no wonder as we slept so well. Beds range from queen to super-kingsize; all are pocket-sprung and dressed in Egyptian cotton and goose-down bedding.

Colours are heritage-inspired and muted (think soft green, clotted cream and dusky white), amenities are high-quality and understated. All rooms have iPod docking stations with DAB radios, flat-screen TVs, good-quality shower bathrooms and bathrobes - Butchers and Phaethon have baths as well. Complimentary toiletries are by Miller Harris. Thoughtful details include bedside water carafes and a good range of teas and coffee.

Features include:

  • Bathrobes
  • Central heating
  • Coffee maker
  • Coffee tea making
  • Cots Available
  • DVD player (on request)
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer
  • Ipod dock
  • Iron (on request)
  • Radio
  • Satellite tv
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi

Eating

The atmospheric bar and its adjacent traditional snug (the Oak Room with its vast original fireplace), along with the restaurant, are very much the beating heart and raison d'être of The Sun Inn. Italian-influenced menus proudly credit the farmers and artisan producers - eating local is a strong ethos here.

The dining room has been extended into the former stables. Here you'll find the lovely breakfast buffet - cereals, fruit compotes, yoghurts, homemade jams, cured meat, fresh fruit salad, croissants, and wonderful local apple and pear juices. Cooked items are seasonal and made to order - we loved the smoked haddock omelette and spring vegetable frittata.

The lunch and dinner menu changes daily. Midweek there's a set menu option, and steak and pies are always a feature on Fridays; picnics and afternoon teas are also available on request (see Rates). We chose a tomato and bean soup and a carpaccio of marinated haddock with pickled rhubarb and micro leaves as light starter dishes (these can be scaled up as mains), and were tempted by the daily evolving sharing antipasti. For mains we went for Dedham duck leg and breast on beetroot and leaves, and the pork chop with beans and chard. We finished up with a medley of desserts, including almond tart.

The excellent wine list, which features relatively unknown gems, is overseen by Hamish Anderson of Tate Galleries UK; he and Head Chef Ugo Simonelli host successful wine pairing evenings from May to September, where you sample a tasting menu of 5-7 courses. My husband was also excited by the variety of artisan ales and stouts.

Other dining options nearby include The Boathouse in Dedham, The Crown at Stoke by Nayland, and Mistley Thorn.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Children meals
  • Coffee maker
  • Coffee tea making
  • Organic produce
  • Restaurant
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating: Dining room
Activity:

Activities

  • Explore the village of Dedham with its fine Grade I-listed Georgian architecture and medieval buildings. St Mary's Church, opposite the Sun Inn, dates from the 15th century and has a splendid flint tower, plus an original Constable on display
  • Dedham is the epicentre of Constable country: the great artist, Sir John Constable, went to school in the village and his paintings often featured the local Lowland landscapes, the church and Stour
  • Stroll along the River Stour and admire the Water Meadows and wildfowl; you can hire boats at The Boathouse (it's an hour to Flatford and back)
  • Artistic types should also visit the Sir Alfred Munnings Art Museum
  • Nearby villages are equally charming - check out Stratford St Mary, Stoke by Nayland, Mistley, East Bergholt, Lavendham and Long Melford
  • Colchester has a castle and art galleries, plus zoo
  • Frinton and Clacton beaches are 30-40 minutes away

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Boat trips
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Museums / galleries
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Sailing
  • Shopping / markets

Kids

Children are made welcome here and will enjoy exploring the village and strolling beside the river. In the garden there are some play structures (slide, swings) and bushes and trees to play hide and seek in. There are kids' options available at lunch and dinner, and even the fussiest of children will find something appealing at the buffet breakfast. But overall there are few special facilities for children on the premises, and the focus is mainly on couples - we brought the kids with us and left them in the room with a monitor while enjoying a very special meal à deux downstairs.

Best for:

Babies (0-1 years), Children (4-12 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

Elsa, Wards and Phaethon (all Superior Rooms) are the largest rooms and can accommodate a cot and up to 2 extra beds. Larger families/groups can take both Dovecot and Butchers, which are newer and share a common entrance up an original Elizabethan staircase

Baby listening:

A baby monitor is available on request

Children's meals:

  • High chair
  • Plastic crockery and cutlery
  • Kids' menu options

Kids Activities on site:

  • Play structures in the garden
  • Some games available in rooms and in the Oak Room

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Walking along the Stour looking at the ducks and swans
  • Hiring boats on the Stour
  • Beaches at Frinton and Clacton
  • Zoo in Colchester
  • Sports centre in Colchester

Families Should Know:

The staircases up to the rooms are a little steep. The Inn is right on the main road in Dedham, so keep an eye out if your toddler is inexorably drawn to viewing the traffic (such as it is in this small village) - as ours was

Distances:

  • Airport: 60 minutes
  • Hospital: 10 minutes
  • Shop: 1 minute
Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
10/
Food
9/
Service
9/
Value
9/
Overall

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