The Staith House is a fabulous gastropub on North Shields Fish Quay housed in what was a tired old pub, The New Dolphin. Following a massive refurb project coupled with the introduction of talented chefs John Calton and James Laffan, the pub has been magically transformed into a highly acclaimed stand-alone eatery with a string of accolades to its bow, including recently being listed in the Top 50 Gastropubs in the UK 2016. This comes as no surprise as former Masterchef finalist John Calton has been busy perfecting his art, working with some of Europe’s top Michelin-starred chefs including Martin Wishart in Scotland, as well as a stint at Le Gavroche in London. Following some time at the Duke of Wellington in Newton, Northumberland where he succeeded in making it into the Michelin Pub Guide, John headed up the team at The Staith House in 2013 bringing these finely honed culinary skills with him. As a result, the cooking here is knowledgeable but not in your face, taking its inspiration from the brilliant food pubs in London and specialising in locally sourced “meat from the farm, fish from the quay”. We first met up with John and his team last year and you can read the interview here.
This recent visit to The Staith House on a bleak January evening was a real winter warmer. Once inside, the heat from a wood-burning stove warmed our cockles and comfy, eclectic furniture and flickering candles made us feel right at home. Staying faithful to the local area, the pub’s interior featured a smattering of nautical quirks such as shipping maps on the ceiling, porthole windows on its doors, stripped wood and old photographs of the Quayside. Greeted by friendly and courteous waiting staff with a welcome aperitif we were quickly introduced to the man himself, head chef John Calton. Having heard so much of Calton’s culinary journey and cooking style, we were delighted to learn we would be treated to a handpicked taster selection emphasising his passion for locally sourced, seasonal ingredients cooked simply with some quirky touches.
With this knowledge, we began with a plate of handmade pork and fennel salami, aged for three months. Doused in spicy olive oil, the fennel was subtle and the meat meltingly good. This was shortly followed by a dish of creamy crab garnished with avocado and offset with tart pink grapefruit, an unusual marriage that worked perfectly.
Next up were some plump, griddled scallops in a bowl of comforting smoked haddock, potato and crunchy barley. Continuing with the fish, we sampled a morsel of plaice so fresh it melted in the mouth accompanied with a rich black truffle infused risotto and a hint of thyme adding sweetness to this savoury dish. Our sea bass was similarly treated with earthy flavours-red wine butter, rich black pudding, wilted spinach and root vegetable crisps. Onto the meats; pink slithers of Simonburn lamb melted on the tongue with Ticklemore cheese and salsify chips, a slice of heavenly Ryal Farm sirloin aged for six weeks with Tunworth cheese and grilled lettuce was remarkably good. Finishing with a divine chocolate and peanut butter fondant, we greedily eyed other dishes leaving the kitchen such as bowls of enormous mussels and a steamed lamb pudding. This food is honest and brilliantly sourced, celebrating the best of British fare whilst highlighting interesting flavours and textures so that the quality of ingredients really shines through. Following this gastronomic experience, I thanked John for this feast and lured him from the kitchen to chat about his on-going success at The Staith House:
LT Firstly, congratulations on being listed in the Top 50 Gastropubs for the whole UK. You must be really pleased?
JC To get confirmation that we would be listed in the Top 50 Gastropubs in the whole of the UK for 2016 was our biggest achievement to date, it is something we have worked extremely hard for and when the letter came through I was just bursting with pride, it felt like a milestone had been reached just fantastic to be on that list with other great chefs such as Stephen Harris at The Sportsman and Andrew Pern at The Star Inn to name but two.
LT Do you guys work for these awards or are they just a nice bonus?
JC I feel the whole team works extremely hard throughout the year to impress not just the inspectors and the guidebooks but our everyday customers who have been loyal to us supporting the Staith House from day one. If the truth be told, we do have a very competitive edge which does keep us hungry for national recognition so when the awards do come along we are extremely proud of the effort that’s gone into them seemingly making it all worthwhile.
LT What have you been up to since we last spoke a year ago?
JC Since the last time we spoke a year ago I went to work with Stephen Harris at The Sportsman for a stage, which I found hugely inspirational, his whole philosophy on food, the sourcing of ingredients, and the simplicity on the plate really changed the way I look at things. After that visit we bought a smoker to start smoking our own meat and fish, we started to get into charcuterie a lot more making our own salami, chorizo and ham. Whilst staying true to our roots, cooking the best possible fish and shellfish available from the quay, where we are based, we also got a lot more game this season, as there was a lot more interest from our customers.
LT For such a young restaurant, things are going incredibly well for The Staith House. Is there still more you want to achieve?
JC As far as our achievements for 2015 go that’ll take some beating next year:
Entry Into The Top 50 Gastro Pubs 2016, The Star Pub Awards – Pub Of The Year, National Winner 2015 Entry Into the Sawdays guide 2016 – (a great place to eat), The Great British Pub Awards 2015 – National Winner, Best Food Pub The Great British Pub Awards 2014 – Highly commended, Best turn around pub – Observer Food Monthly Awards 2015 – Best Restaurant – Runner Up Observer Food Monthly Awards 2015 – Best Sunday Dinner – Runner Up
Entry into the Michelin Guide 2016, 2015 Entry into the Michelin Eating out in Pubs Guide 2016, 2015 Entry into the Good Food Guide 2016, 2015 Nominated as a “Local Gem’ in both editions Entry into The Good Pub Guide 2016 Entry into The Hardens Restaurant Guide 2016, 2015 Top 50 Gastro Pubs 2015 Best Newcomer – Runner Up Top 50 Gastro Pubs 2015 Gastro Chef of the year – Runner Up Star Pub Awards 2014 Best use of Media – Winner Star Pub Awards 2014 Famous For Food North East Tourism Awards 2014 – Tourism Pub of the year – Silver
In 2016/17, I would love to get a Michelin Bib Gourmand and get entry into the AA Guide as this has eluded us so far, I’d also like to see our business partner James, Callum our commis chef and Vic our chef de partie taking part in a few competitions to really test themselves against the best, I think it would really help to develop their confidence and skill set and help to bring on the next generation of chefs at The Staith House, to see our chefs win something for themselves that would be a personal achievement for me.
LT What can we expect from The Staith House for the next 12 months? Any exciting plans i.e. menus, wine lists, partnerships, events, awards etc
JC This year I’m really looking forward to doing a stage at Nathan Outlaws 2 Star Restaurant in Cornwall. He is a chef I hugely admire and can’t wait to learn from him. It is much the same for James who has a stage lined up at Simon Rogan’s 2 Star Restaurant L’Enclume.
Another string I’d like to add to my bow would be to complete my Level 3 Wine & Spirits Trust exam, hopefully visiting a couple of vineyards in the process. This year our plan is to do just four tasting nights, which will showcase the best luxury ingredients moving with the seasons. We also have our eyes peeled for a great location to potentially do a second site then try to make that one as much of a success as The Staith House – fingers crossed!
LT What about you: will you be at any events or festivals this year?
JC On January the 26th this year I am competing as a finalist in The Parliamentary Pub Chef of The Year. This is a national competition whereby the only way to enter is to be nominated by a local MP, you then submit a paper entry of a recipe and the judges decide whether that is good enough to go all the way. Fortunately, I got to the final where I will compete against three other chefs with a mystery box of ingredients and a time limit of one hour to produce four plates of food, so the pressure is definitely on.
LT Finally: where is the best place you’ve eaten recently?
JC The best places I have eaten recently are The Dairy and The Manor in Clapham, where the food is right up our street: lots of brilliant innovative ideas, smoking, charcuterie, quirky combinations and great service – would highly recommend.