The weather at the weekend meant it was the perfect time to be beside the water – unfortunately I was at North Shields Fish Quay the previous Saturday when it was wet, windy and wild.
Nonetheless, the weather outside matters little if you are distracted by decent food and drink in pleasant surroundings – fortunately we ended up in The Staith House and were very glad we did; I would return come rain or shine.
The pub with a focus on dining is an awards magnet, picking up a series of different gongs since it opened in 2013, and now sits among the leading lights of the North East culinary scene.
Having said that, I must admit it was not a place I was familiar with and I was ignorant of its previous achievements when we ended up in there – perhaps a good start for a review as you are unswayed by others or the hype.
We had been at Silverlink and thought that the relatively nearby (when you travel from north Northumberland) Fish Quay would provide somewhere more interesting to eat than the shopping complex.
Once there, we had a quick wander to see what took our fancy and opted for The Staith House for the look of it as much as anything else.
Now, they say not to judge a book by its cover, but if care has been taken to make a pub or restaurant look well-presented then usually that same level of effort will go into everything else that they do.
We hadn’t booked, but fortunately it was after 2pm so while there were plenty of people eating, there were a couple of tables free.
As with the outside, we were impressed by the décor inside; it still is very much a pub, meaning there’s still a proper bar, plenty of wood panelling, pictures and knick-knacks on the walls and informal tables and chairs.
But while these other elements are important and add to the experience, the real test is in the tasting, particularly as food is the reason why The Staith House has been landing so many accolades.
Given its location on the Fish Quay, fresh-off-the-boat seafood is the name of the game, but this commitment to local food is continued throughout the menu with meat coming from the likes of Ryal and Simonburn in Northumberland – admittedly further than the fish, but still an admirable commitment to sourcing produce as locally as possible.
Unsurprisingly, this means that the menu changes from day to day based on what the boats bring in.
To begin, I went for the salad of Shields white crab with fennel and lime (£8.50) in which the richness of the crab meat was delightfully balanced with the aniseed undernotes of the fennel and the citrus sharpness of the lime. The crab itself was delicious – and that’s why having fresh produce in close proximity is such a bonus.
Ignoring the sea though did not impact the quality as the pig’s cheek croquette with Brown Ale pease pudding (£5) was equally good and a real taste of the North East, proving that the region has plenty to offer from sea or soil.
For those who wish to get their mouth watering without eating a whole starter, there is also an appetisers section of the menu featuring the likes of pickled herring and sardine (£3) and corned beef fritter (£3).
For the main event, we both went for fish – mine was the seared fillets of red mullet with Provencale-style fish soup (£15, smaller portion for £8 also available).
The fish was very good again, although my one and only complaint on the day would be that I would have preferred the skin on my mullet to have been crispier.
I had expected the Provencale-style fish soup to be similar to a bouillabaisse – the fish stew/soup which originates from Marseille – but in fact it was a rich sauce, more like a bisque. Regardless, it was delicious.
Across the table was the large grilled fillets of lemon sole with a crispy Lindisfarne oyster, herb emulsion, sea purslane and hand-cut chips (£20).
Again the fish was allowed to act as the star of the show, with the well-chosen cast of supporting elements helping to bring out the best of the flavours.
AWARD-WINNING TEAM EFFORT
James Laffan and husband and wife team John and Kimberley Calton, pictured above, took on the former New Dolphin pub in 2013 and transformed it with a £300,000 refurbishment before opening later that year.
Since then, the awards have rolled in, including The Catey’s Newcomer of the Year in 2016 and Gastropub Chef Of The Year in 2016 for John, who previously reached the finals of Masterchef: The Professionals.
The Staith House is currently looking to secure success at the Observer Food Monthly Awards for the third year running.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Crispy Lindisfarne oysters......£8
Chilled carrot and szechuan veloute......£5.50
Grilled fillet of Shields mackerel......£7/£13
Peas, truffled lardo, natural yoghurt, chervil......£7.50
North Sea turbot......£26
Staithy fish and chips......£12.50
Sirloin of Ryal farm beef......£26
Roast rump of Simonburn lamb......£20
Grilled fillet of plaice......£18
(Vegetarian options on request)
Caramel chocolate mousse......£6
Sticky toffee pudding......£6
Warm rice pudding......£6.50
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......9
Vegetarian choice – menu on request
Use of local food......10
Access for the disabled......8
Toilet for the disabled......Yes
Verdict: It lives up to the hype as the food is very good indeed.
Contact: 0191 270 8441 or visit http://thestaithhouse.co.uk