If Dedham didn’t exist, someone would have had to invent it. Arriving at this quite literally picture-perfect village on the border between Suffolk and Essex is to glide back, momentarily, into an idyllic vision of what England should be, not just in terms of its magnificent setting but because of its rich historical and artistic antecedents. Constable famously painted The Hay Wain in Dedham Vale – a short stroll from Dedham itself – and a visit, even in 2018, reminds one that remarkably little has changed in the two centuries since Jonty C was daubing canvases right, left and centre. Although the area rejoices in the unlovely tourist-board appellation ‘Constable Country’, there is a great deal more to see, not least the excellent Munnings museum, devoted to the work of the area’s other great artist Sir Alfred Munnings.
And, of course, one needs a place to stay. It is essentially impossible to imagine anywhere more convivial, comfortable or pleasant than the Sun Inn, a sixteenth century coaching inn that has been expertly updated and made contemporary by its owner, Piers Baker. One does not come here expecting enormous flat-screen televisions or 24-hour room service.
Instead, one essentially has the comforts of a traditional pub done in the best possible style. Our room had a large brass bed in it, which was superbly comfortable, and the walls were painted in Farrow & Ball. A large and very well-equipped bathroom offered a fine shower, and a wriggling small child seemed to enjoy her bath, insofar as she laughed a lot.
But the reason why the Sun has been so successful for the last decade and a half is surely in the peerless food and drink side of its operation. Unlike countless over-gentrified establishments – restaurants pretending to be more casual – this works beautifully as a genuine locals’ pub; when we arrived, there were some redoubtable old soaks taking into their afternoon ale with every sense of enormous pleasure.
Baker is especially proud of his wine list, which offers remarkably fair pricing; expensive and fine vintages have a standard £20 mark-up on them, and lower down the line, a £25 bottle of Gavi from Piemonte is sold at less than double what it would cost in the shops. This means, as one quickly realises, that one can drink exceptionally well here at the kind of prices that seem impossibly good value. If one was here with serious trenchermen or trencherwomen, one could have an education in fascinating bottles at a very reasonable cost.
But we were there for dinner, not inebriation, and so the food was expected to live up to standards set elsewhere. Which it did, magnificently. The menu has a strong Italian accent; starters of spaghetti and clams and parma ham with figs and ricotta were both tutto bene, and a main of steak with anchovy sauce and a tomato salad was exemplary.
The list of suppliers – all local, mainly small – is hugely impressive; my dessert of posset had gooseberries that tasted of lavender. And all this costs about £100, including wine; the sort of value that depressed urban dwellers have long given up expecting. The only tiny niggle – and it’s so insignificant as to be almost not worth noting – is that the fries are a tad boring. But this is nit picking to an almost comic extent.
After an excellent and comfortable sleep, it was down for the sort of breakfast that I have long dreamt of being served but have seldom reasonably expected. A small cold buffet offers delicious, fresh orange juice, cured meats and wonderful fruit; the obligatory fry up has the most sensational eggs, bacon and sausage that one can imagine. And that is more than enough to send one out into the Dedham morn relaxed, refreshed and thoroughly sated. The Sun, then, seems to be in a constant state of rising. Long may it remain so.
The Sun Inn, High Street, Dedham, Essex CO7 6DF. Tel: +44 (0)1206 323351. For more information, including details of menus, rooms and things to see nearby visit www.thesuninndedham.com.