The Sun Inn, Dedham

In the heart of Constable Country on the Essex Suffolk border, The Sun Inn has been a watering hole for villagers and resting post for travellers for centuries. These days, it offers a convivial welcome to locals and visitors to Dedham Vale. The Sun Inn is an ideal spot to revive yourself with a pint of craft beer, an Italian-inspired meal, a tasty bar snack, or a good night’s sleep. Independently owned and run since 2003 by Piers Baker, this year The Sun Inn celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2018.

The Sun Inn is a proper coaching inn with an elm bar, an open beamed dining room, oak floors, a snug oak-panelled lounge. You will find open fires to keep warm by in the winter, and a peaceful garden and terrace to enjoy in the summer. After a major refurbishment in January 2018, there are bold colours, rich fabrics and bespoke furniture. The mood is congenial, relaxed and family-friendly, with jazz and Latin American background music adding to the appeal. There are newspapers to read, board games to play, and the panelled lounge has deep sofas to sink into.

The Sun Inn is renowned for fabulous seasonal food, inspired by Italy. Head Chef Jack Levine creates robust dishes that are big on flavour. The menu changes monthly and features classic pasta and risotto dishes: crab ravioli; squid with chilli and garlic; as well as more hearty main courses including game in season, rare-breed meat and day-boat landed fish. The menu always offers three cuts of British rare-breed steaks to suit every wallet – skirt, sirloin and prime bone-in-rib and on Sunday’s there’s a generous roast with seasonal changing accompaniments.

Puddings also have an Italian twist such as Espresso Semifreddo, Burnt Meringue, Caramel, Hazelnuts and feature seasonal fruit like Blood Orange Chocolate Mousse.

A new bar menu launched in January for this seeking something more casual to snack on in the characterful bar or the comfortable and cosy lounge. Enjoy a Coronation Sutton Hoo Chicken Sandwich, steamed mussels with Aspall cider or a charcuterie platter to share with friends or indulge in Jack’s Snack based on chef Jack’s midnight fridge raid.

Head Chef, Jack Levine says ‘Cooking with the seasons is very important to us - everything tastes better in its natural season and gets to us quicker so it’s fresher. Our area has a long tradition and perfect climate for growing fruit like apples and raspberries which arrive in our kitchen on the day they are picked. It almost goes without saying that we source produce locally when we can, but first and foremost ingredients have to taste great, if it doesn’t we look further afield.”

Drinks are just as important as the food and are sourced from producers who are as passionate about what they do - ales from Crouch Vale Brewery or Adnams and an eclectic award winning wine list brimming with rare treats.

Seven beautiful en-suite bedrooms, all individually decorated with sumptuous beds and luxurious linen retain their centuries-old character and are a perfect place to unwind. Rooms at the front overlook the beautiful church while those at the back enjoy views over the garden. Breakfast (which is also available to non-residents) includes the classics smoked salmon and scrambled eggs and a fry-up with local sausages and bacon as well as more unusual spinach and mushroom omelette with smoked cheese.

The village of Dedham and the countryside around it has changed little since it was immortalised by John Constable in the 18th century, yet it’s under two hours drive from London. Opposite the striking St Mary’s Church, visitors can explore the pretty village with its patchwork of colourful houses, or borrow bikes, hire a boat to explore the Stour Valley or take a gentle stroll to Flatford Mill.

Church Street Tavern, Essex

Church Street Tavern is a chic and contemporary bar and restaurant in the centre of Colchester that prides itself on being a local hub - a place to chat over an afterwork cocktail or a morning coffee to celebrate with friends over dinner or gather wit family for Sunday roast. Church Street Tavern is consistently rated one of the best places to eat in Colchester and is the only restaurant in town with a Michelin Plate, and two AA Rosettes.

“A handsome, big-boned townhouse just off the main shopping drag which combines the warmth and hospitality of the traditional tavern with serious cooking..” Tracey MacLeod, The Independent

Refreshingly when high streets are dominated by chains, Church Street Tavern is independently owned by Piers Baker, who also owns The Sun Inn, Dedham. Baker has lovingly restored in grand Victorian savings bank, bringing it up-to-date without losing any of its delightful character. Step inside and you'll discover an elegant interior, rustic oak wooden flooring and an assortment of comfortable upholstered seating as well as wonderful artwork from Essex artist, Philippa Dow.

Baker says: “Taverns are a rich part of our heritage - a place to meet and do business. We wanted to create a Tavern for the 21st century - a place to meet, have fun, enjoy good food and drink and be well looked after.”

The downstairs bar is a casual affair with sofas and stools, café tables and counters. The bar menu, served downstairs and upstairs on weekday lunchtimes, stars rare-breed burgers, a seasonal salad and a regular pasta dish.

Upstairs the light-filled dining room is a perfect place for a business lunch or gathering with family and friends. The lunch and dinner menu features an unusual selection of lighter including steamed mussels, Caeser salad and more substantial dishes like Highfield’s Farm Duck Breast and steak aged for a minimum of 45 days and from rare breed animals. Vegetarians will enjoy dishes like Roast Crown Squash, Mushroom Orzo, Kale andChestnut Pesto - a vegan menu is available. Jannsson’s Temptation, a classic Swedish potato dish, is a popular alternative to fries. Sunday roasts are flavourful and generous.

Menus change monthly with the seasons and where possible meat, fish and vegetables are all sourced locally, including Sutton Hoo Chicken, rare-breed beef and fish from Mersea day boats.

To wash it down, there is a cracking selection of beers and ciders (both bottled and draft) and premium spirits. There is an exceptional and extensive wine list chosen for their distinct flavour, and made with respect for the vine as well as the environment. The eclectic cocktails list features classics, created and mixed with care.