As he prepares to celebrate a decade at The Sun Inn, head chef Jack Levine reflects on having a break, the field to fork journey and spreading happiness in Dedham
Many of us tried to make the most out of having more time at home in 2020. Me? I decided it was time to learn all about dog training (despite the fact I currently have just one very old cat). The head chef of popular Dedham pub The Sun Inn? “I’ve enjoyed taking advantage of having a lot of time off as I’ll never be able to have so much free time again in my life,” smiles Jack Levine.
It’s an understandable response as, at the time of writing, The Sun Inn was preparing to fully open its doors once again, and if it’s anything like what life was like pre-COVID, Levine will soon be rushed off his feet once again. “The impression I have received is that we have been missed and people are really looking forward to being able to join us again and resume normal life,” he says.
For The Sun Inn’s regular clientele, this year or so without being able to settle into its cosy surroundings has probably felt even longer. The former coaching inn sits in the heart of Constable Country, with its open beamed dining room a wonderful setting for a meal, open fires perfect in the winter and, more apt for June, a peaceful garden with an outdoor bar and terrace to enjoy the sun. While we have all been twiddling our thumbs or learning how to make a dog sit, it’s been busy behind the scenes at The Sun Inn. “There has been lots going on,” nods Levine. “There’s been redecorating, a new patio area at the top of the garden, some essential repairs to the roof, and I am getting some new equipment to play with in the kitchen, so that’s exciting! As ever, it’s lots of small improvements to keep things fresh.”
One thing that won’t change a great deal is Levine’s approach to the menu. “I always try to just keep the food simple, fresh, honest and seasonal,” he says. Although the menu is tweaked on a monthly basis, there are always plenty of pasta and risotto dishes to enjoy, as well as more hearty main courses including game in season, rare breed meat and dry-boat landed fish. The menu always offers three cuts of British rare breed steaks – skirt, sirloin and prime bone-in-rib – and on Sundays there’s a generous roast with seasonal changing accompaniments.
The latter, in particular, is key when it comes to Levine’s menu. “It’s important for me to cook within the seasons,” he states, “that’s when produce is at its best and full of flavour and vibrancy. The difference in quality is unmatched, which is the case with using local suppliers too. That’s more important now than ever before. We’ve got to support small businesses, keep things in the community and shorten the food miles. There is a lot more care and attention that goes into local produce from small suppliers, and the shorter the journey from field to fork, [the better] the flavour.”
As he settles back into work, it’s a good time for Levine to reflect on ten years at The Sun Inn. “I joined on 18 July 2011,” he smiles. “I started as a chef-de-partie and, after three years, became sous chef. Then, in 2015, I became head chef. I like how we as a company always try to move forward instead of standing still. The company is fair with a good ethos and many benefits.”
Levine’s food aside, there is so much on offer at The Sun Inn. Drinks are just as important as the food and are sourced from producers who are as passionate about what they do – you can expect ales from Crouch Vale Brewery or Adnams, and an eclectic award-winning wine list brimming with rarities. There’s also seven beautiful en-suite bedrooms, all individually decorated, that retain their centuries-old character, meaning you can make a weekend of it.
You don’t really need any extra excuse to visit, but there’s plenty on the horizon to make the simple joy of going back to the pub even better. It’s been a while since we have been able to sit indoors with friends, so Levine’s FEAST menu – ideal for sharing – is cause for celebration. Then, from 10-11 July, The Sun Inn’s annual free music and beer festival, AlFesto, returns, with 11 bands performing across the weekend, 15 craft ales and cider, a prosecco and gin bar, outdoor games for adults and kids (think Jenga, boules and skittles), and a special festival menu of barbecued burgers, pulled pork, strawberries and ice-cream.
“AlFesto is a popular event in the community,” Levine says, “and I look forward to providing happiness to the people of Dedham. There is such a great local community here. And, at the end of the weekend, the whole team gets together to finish any leftover beer well into the night!” You get the impression he’s going to need that break once again soon.