Restaurant review: The Sun Inn, Dedham: “Great food was let down by slow service”

Pasta with chilli and lemon.

Pasta with chilli and lemon. - Credit: Archant

Charlotte Smith-Jarvis visits a popular pub on the Essex/Suffolk border.

Crab, chilli and lemon tagliatelle.

Crab, chilli and lemon tagliatelle. - Credit: Archant

Food

In this honeypot village (the heartland of the Milsom group) you have to dare to be different – and that’s exactly what The Sun Inn aims to do.

In the kitchen the team uses rare breed meat, dayboat landed fish and seasonal fruit and vegetables to craft a menu of dishes heavily influenced by the regions of Italy.

As we sat down a basket of crunchy-bottomed bread was planted on the table. Pinch pots of salt and pepper, and oil poured into a dish while we waited were a nice touch.

Braised beef with mash.

Braised beef with mash. - Credit: Archant

To start I tangled al dente pasta onto my fork. It had been tossed with chilli, lemon, herbs and a generous dose of brackish crab meat. Salty, a little citrusy and with a slick of oil, it was a truly unctuous bowl, and more than amply sized for a starter.

Across the table was a cake of leeks, cheese and truffle, all gooey and earthy, with a mouth-filling cep cream that was rammed with flavour yet had a light touch.

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To follow, my husband waxed lyrical over a plate of gelatinous braised beef, enrobed in a glossy, punchy sauce, with smooth mash and al dente vegetables. All of it cooked to perfection.

My crisp-skinned, soft-flaked cod fillet oozed juice, and was served over a smoked haddock chowder with just-cooked shreds of verdant kale. There was no denying the freshness of the fish, or its exemplary cooking, but for me something extra was missing here. After a few bites it was all a bit samey. I needed a whack of acidity or maybe a bite of black pepper to keep me diving in for more.

Cod with smoked haddock chowder.

Cod with smoked haddock chowder. - Credit: Archant

Despite brimming with food we ordered desserts, which were modest portions but really probably just the right size after the feasts that preceded them. Mr Jarvis’ orange savarin was light as air, drenched with not-too-sweet rum syrup and served with a puffy chocolate mousse that gave the pud an indulgent finish.

And I was delighted with my salted caramel panna cotta, which was up there with some of the best I’ve had. Smooth, complex dulce de leche flavours shone through the sexily wobbly pudding, flecked with savoury salt flakes. Cubelets of gingerbread at the edges, when eaten with the panna cotta, reminded me of those spiced Christmassy speculoos biscuits. But the pieces of pear served with it were insipid, underripe and unnecessary.

Drinks

Leek and taleggio croquette.

Leek and taleggio croquette. - Credit: Archant

There’s an impressive wine list. I’m a tart for sweeter wines so obviously had to go for a drop of buttery, luscious Chardonnay/Viognier. No matter your preferences, I think the wine list will have something for you.

Ambiance

Dedham is a wonderful historic village and The Sun Inn is smack bang in the middle of it. The pub is clearly popular as it was overflowing with families and couples during our visit, creating a fantastic, vibrant atmosphere. The restaurant area combines original features with splashes of bright colour in the soft furnishing, artwork and flowers dotted about.

Salted caramel panna cotta with gingerbread and pear.

Salted caramel panna cotta with gingerbread and pear. - Credit: Archant

Service

It was a busy lunchtime on our visit. We were impressed at the speed at which bread was served. Water was bought to the table without us having to ask. And starters came out promptly. But service seemed to slide as lunch went on. Tables were left sitting with empty plates for a long time. In fact the group beside us had their dessert plates in front of them from the time we ordered pudding to the moment we asked our bill. It was a bit of a free-for-all. I think it works better in restaurants when staff have their own ‘sections’ to look after, ensuring continuity. Hopefully it was just a particularly busy day and the service wasn’t indicative of how it is usually there.

Parking

There’s limited on-street parking over the road, otherwise there’s a large car park a five minute walk away.

Price

The bill for three courses, one soft drink and one glass of wine came to just under £70.

Highlight

The panna cotta. I’ve had more badly made panna cottas than anything else, but they are clearly pros at The Sun Inn because their version ticked every box, being silky smooth and creamy with a jiggle and not too much setting agent.

Summary

We enjoyed the food at The Sun Inn but felt the service during our visit wasn’t as great as it could have been. Saying that, it seemed very family-friendly so we’d probably go back with our children, maybe to check out Sunday lunch.

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