When you open a gastro pub at a fish quay, the pressure’s on to make your seafood shine.
With nature’s larder on its doorstep, The Staith House has an ocean of ingredients at its disposal and, rightly so, it prides itself on self-sufficiency and utilising local produce.
It’s an ethos that’s attracting diners from across the region to this historic pub, and it was word of mouth that drew me to this corner of North Shields.
Use the term ‘gastro pub’ and you think of stags’ heads on the walls and food served on slate tiles. There’s none of that here. It retains its history as a proper boozer with the welcome addition of a menu that laughs in the face of average pub grub.
The decor doffs its cap to the site’s history with seafaring trinkets and sepia images of the yesteryear fishing industry on the wall. If you need reminding that welcomes are warm here, there’s even a wood-burning stove to really hammer it home.
Sit at the windowsill, as we did, and you can flick through the many guides The Staith House has featured in since its reinvention at the hands of chef John Calton, which ranges from The Good Pub Guide to the Michelin Eating out in Pubs Guide.
Its bread and butter menu is a fish and meat feast with options such as cod, haddock and whiting fishcakes (£6); game Scotch egg (£6.50) and, peering over to our fellow diners’ table, a whopping great portion of beer-battered fish and chips for £11.50.
Feeling flush and with a few hours to spare – you’ll need them, and a stretchy waistband – we chose a tasting menu which has to be pre-booked.
It’s a menu which changes regularly and really gives John a chance to flex his culinary muscles – or should that be mussels.
The number of courses varies too, but ours came in at £50 for a hefty 12 courses (I did warn you about the waistband).
It takes your tastebuds on a foray to the North Sea and beyond with features such as Mackerel tartare served with a twist to the usual oyster with an oyster emulsion and sea buckthorn, followed by Shields crab, served with apple, coriander and artichoke; a magnificent gurnard dish with saffron wax caps, mushrooms and hoisin and a playful take on textures with a dish of smoked haddock, smoked eel, curry, leek, black pudding, bacon and parsley root.
Even the bread was worth writing home about. Though we were verging on being stuffed, we couldn’t resist asking for more of the subtly sweet treacle bread which we lathered in a rich truffle butter.
The meat dishes command your attention too and the Simonburn lamb with parnsip, haggis, sweetbread and watercress was nothing short of a tender triumph.
No wonder Staith House is reeling them in.