THE SUN INN
I wait - I smoke
I stare into my coke
For my sins, during the late seventies, I went to Essex University near Colchester. Ah, those were the days: rent strikes, occupying the admin offices, endless debates about Zionism. Quite an eye opener for a young innocent like myself. Things change, though and on the University’s website under the entry for October 1978 (when I started) it said:
1978 October - The University Nursery opens.
Funny – I don’t remember that at all.
I haven’t really been out that way for a few years – a tailback on the A12 doesn’t really count – so it seemed like a good destination for a HP day out in the country. I’d heard some good things about The Sun Inn in Dedham so one brief train and taxi ride later I was in the heart of Constable country.
It is ridiculously picturesque out here especially on a sunny day. You can see why the area gets so many tourists. Round every corner is a scene that could be in one of Constable’s paintings. All this natural beauty and general pleasantness put me in a very good mood.
This good mood continued after arriving at the Sun Inn and getting stuck into a great pint of Brewer’s Gold from Crouch Vale, a brewer based just down the road in Chelmsford. Unfortunately, that was as good as things were going to get during the afternoon.
The menu at The Sun Inn is based very firmly in Italy which should be a very good thing as we pass from Spring to Summer. Traditional Italian cuisine is all about the ingredients and relies on sympathetic cooking to not muck things up too much.
I did say that I wasn’t in any hurry so there was no rush for my food. There was obviously some breakdown in communication as my Antipasti and starter were both brought together. Having a FOH would have helped a lot here. As the antipasti section was cold I started with what was billed as Pea and Wet Garlic Soup. Odd then that was no sign of any peas. There were some broad beans - a little early in the season - but they had been cooked to death. The whole thing was dull and one-note.
The Antipasti was an even bigger disappointment. Apart from the Oyster and the ok Speck which the kitchen would really have to try hard to screw up, it was pretty bad. Where to start ? How about cold unskinned tomatoes on cold hard bread masquerading as a bruschetta. Fridge-fresh, rock-hard Chicken Livers on the same bread as before described as crostino. Grilled Lamb Belly was a thin slice of very fatty rolled meat.. Hands up any thing worse than cold lamb fat ? Marinated Brill – a messy, fishy mush. I got a bonus as well, some gritty wild mushrooms straight from the fridge.
Everything tasted as if it had been cooked several days before. This should have been twice the price and cooked ten times better. It was cheap, it tasted cheap and nasty.
Salt Marsh Lamb Chops were a bit better. Three generous chops were meaty beaty big and bouncy but they were well done when I was told they’d come medium rare. The fat, though good, could have done with a bit more rendering. In fact I decided that I’d rather have had smaller, nicely trimmed and more accurately cooked specimens than the behemoths served up. There really is no pleasing me.
The chops sat on a greasy mush of tomatoes and aubergine that a fresher would turn their nose up at. For no discernible reason a flower and some unchopped parsley had been thrown in as well.
I went to the bathrooms but they were flooded – I managed to use one of the toilets but then there wasn’t any soap in the dispensers. I wouldn’t normally mention this but I wanted to convey how dismal the whole experience was. And the thing was nobody seemed to give a damn. I ducked out before pud.
When I go on my weekend jaunts the return journey is usually a pleasant one. My belly will be full of good food. I’ll have a nice little buzz after a few glasses of wine and I can normally expect an hour or so kip on the train back. All I got from this visit was a big bill for taxi and train and indigestion from the big lumps of fat I’d just ingested (I know, I know – all self-inflicted). Still it’s going to have to be a bloody good restaurant that tempts me back to Essex.
PS Manningtree station had a nice little bar on the platform where the bald-headed, bare-chested locals hang. I joined them in drowning whatever disappointments life had flung at us.