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John and Kimberley Calton and James Laffan, the Staith House
John Calton and wife Kimberley made a brave move taking on the derelict New Dolphin pub in North Shields, particularly with the added challenge of overcoming the pub’s stagnant reputation. It lost £6,000 within a year – most of the money they had saved – and the rest went into the fixtures and fittings the pub desperately needed.
However, after a £300,000 refurbishment, it reopened as the Staith House in November 2013, reverting to its original 19th-century name. It has been winning over locals, visitors and numerous accolades since – and with no time to spare, their daughter Polly was born three days after opening. With Kimberley’s financial services background and friend James Laffan joining John in the kitchen after they both met at the Duke of Wellington Inn near Riding Mill, where James was working front-of-house, it turned out to be a winning combination.
John became a chef at 18 after a year as a kitchen porter. His career has taken him to France, working with Simon Scott, while in the UK he’s held chef roles at the Box Tree, Ilkley, and the Star Inn, Harome, as well as Harbour Lights in his home town, South Shields. On top of that, he’s enjoyed TV success, making it to the final of MasterChef: The Professionals in 2010.
The refurbishment has transformed the site into a relaxed gastropub. Within two years it gained a mention in the Good Pub Guide 2015, won Food Pub of the Year at the 2015 Great British Pub Awards, and this year has been shortlisted for Seafish Restaurant of the Year.
The menu is largely decided by the daily catch, with a seasonal menu that makes the most of the restaurant’s location at the mouth of the river Tyne, with access to the North Sea and the farms and game suppliers of Northumberland. Some meat is even butchered upstairs and there is a commitment to nose-to-tail eating. Despite the small team, the brigade are committed to bringing new techniques to the table, making their own butter and cheese, smoking their own fish and game, foraging for seaweed, brining, curing and making their own salt.
Starters can include seaweed-cured salmon with celeriac remoulade, or a spicy lamb scotch egg with garlic and anchovy dip. Mains might feature pulled pork pie with peas, sweet English mustard and crackling; aged beef with bone-marrow butter; plaice with Lincolnshire potatoes, samphire and brown shrimps; and grilled fillets of mackerel with braised puy lentils, roast red pepper and Gem lettuce. Puddings include treacle tart with pineapple, rum and coconut syrup; and vanilla rice pudding with caramelised apple. Starters range from £5-£7, mains between £11-£25 and puddings are from £6, and £9 for the cheeseboard.
The team are always looking to push themselves and upskill with new stages. They hope to make full use of their barbecue and outdoor areas, and are considering an extension in the near future.
What the judges said
“It’s a real family business in the heart of the community.”
“I’m proud to see chefs like John make the jump into his own business, and to help raise the level of dining for the North East.”
- Dominic Chapman, the Beehive
- Nick and Mary Galer, the Miller of Mansfield
- John and Kimberley Calton and James Laffan, the Staith House
- Kenny Atkinson chef-patron, House of Tides
- Pascal Aussignac chef, Club Gascon
- Richard Ball executive chairman, Calcot Hotels
- William Baxter chairman, Hospitality Action
- Richard Beatty co-founder, Polpo
- Tom Kerridge chef-owner, the Hand & Flowers
- Michael North chef-owner, the Nut Tree Inn
- David Pitchford chef-patron, Read’s
- Bruce Poole director, Chez Bruce
- Jane Sunley CEO, Purple Cubed