The Staith House: New Quay


Jane Pikett eats big at The Staith House, North Shields

Years ago, as Nelson Mandela tasted his first days of freedom after 27 years in prison, Margaret Thatcher clung on grimly to her last days in Number 10, and I was a cub reporter on the Gazette, South Shields, my then-news editor, Neil Mckay, would occasionally declare down tools on a Friday lunchtime, this the cue for us intrepid news hounds to pile onto the ferry and sail across to North Shields for a pie and a pint at the Wooden Doll.

Much has changed since then. The Wooden Doll remains, joined now by notables including the River Café, Irvins Brasserie, an excellent waterfront strip of fishmongers, chippies, family Italians and bistros.

StaithHouse1The newest kid on the block is The Staith House, creation of chefs James Laffan and John Calton, both formerly of the Duke of Wellington in Riding Mill, and the latter a MasterChef Professionals finalist four years ago.

These two are like kids in sweet shop, even at 11pm on a Thursday night, having cooked for 110 through lunch and dinner (“it’s like this every day…just mad”). They’re bright-eyed and buzzing, reflecting on the “mad, crazy” day they’ve just had and already planning enthusiastically for tomorrow.

John’s wife Kimberley has led the young and charming front-of-house team tonight, while their baby daughter, born three days after they opened four months ago, snoozes upstairs. “She goes down really easily. She seems to know when Mammy needs to be working,” says Kimberley, not quite believing her luck.

An atmosphere of pure happiness pervades the place. John and James, Kimberley and the girls out front wear broad grins. They’re full of chat about the food, about the place, which they stripped down and restored over weeks of hard work.

The place is packed with happy folk, working their way through the freshest catches of the day and contributing to the general buzz. My dining partner Vicky Moffitt’s contribution to this is in the shape of ‘mmmms’ and ‘ahhhhs’, rising in volume with pink lamb, morels and flavour-packed, brilliant beetroot; good, robust food which packs a big flavour punch.

The portions are too big, which leads to the dreadful moral dilemma – do we leave any? Trained by parents for whom memories of rationing remain, we plough on. The bread is served with a wee pan of warm dripping for dipping (a meal in itself); the potted pork is perfectly wrapped in zesty green apple; the crab sings with zingy fennel and blood orange – a simply sublime combination. The grilled hake is big, meaty and divinely, wonderfully fresh, set off with sun-dried tomatoes and aioli. There’s enough for two of me, but we plough on, more ‘mmmmms’ and ‘ahhhhs’ as the lads in the open kitchen tirelessly bake, beat, sear, dress and drizzle, their energy so palapable it flows from the kitchen, feeding the vitality of
this place.

StaithHouse2The menu is largely decided by the catches of the day. Then there’s lamb and rib-eye beef from Northumberland, goat from Morpeth, rare-breed pork. Some of the meat is butchered upstairs and there is a commitment to nose-to-tail eating. There’s live music and a well-stocked bar, and the place is done out in reclaimed timber, trawler captains’ charts pasted on the ceiling, cage lights suspended above the big, chunky tables, all of which makes you want to stay longer than you plan. The wild garlic fritters stand out, as does the beetroot, and the young, pink rhubarb which tops a creamy panacotta with warm biscotti.

The boys relish their freedom. “We cook what’s good, we play great music, we have good beer, wine, and cocktails, and the atmosphere is great. I’d want to hang out here all day, if I weren’t already here,” says James, buzzing from his marathon shift. Their energy is contagious, even for those of us who spent our Friday lunchtimes on this Quay when these two were at infants’ school. The Quay, it seems, to success.

The Staith House, Low Lights, North Shields, NE30 1HF, tel 0191 270 8441,

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