John Calton made his culinary name as a finalist on the BBC’s MasterChef: The Professionals. Now he’s the proud owner of The Staith House, a multi award-winning gastropub in North Shields.
Launching a gastropub the same week as your wife gives birth to your daughter is a pretty arduous task. But as John Calton says: “when you have a vision, you have to push on. Don’t get me wrong, I was terrified. The sleepless nights, running a new business – it was the hardest time of my life.”
But now, three years on, John, 34 – his business partners, wife Kimberley, 33, and friend, James Laffan, 30 – are reaping the rewards of their hard graft after winning a string of accolades.
John was voted Gastropub Chef of the Year 2016 at the prestigious Top 50 Gastropub Awards, and The Staith House itself came number 31 – the first time it’s ever made it on to the list.
The Staith House was also national winner of the Star Pub Awards last year, as well as winning Best Restaurant and Best Sunday Dinner at the Observer’s Food Monthly Awards 2015. Plus, it gained entry in the Michelin Guide in 2015 and 2016.
“It’s amazing to win such awards,” said John. “It’s also a relief, it shows that you’ve done the right thing, that your dedication has paid off.”
It was when John was heading up the kitchen at The Harbour Lights in his hometown of South Shields that he’d look out across the River Tyne and dream of owning his own place.
“I’d like to say I spotted the opportunity to take over what was The New Dolphin in North Shields, but it was Kimberly. She noticed it was up for lease,” said John. “We looked at the pub and wondered why nobody was doing anything with it. Then we approached the brewery and discovered it was up for a £300,000 refurb.”
The couple talked friend James Laffan into coming on board, and the trio scraped together the finances to get their name above the door.
Although John came with experience and credibility, having been a finalist on MasterChef: The Professionals in 2010, landlords Star Pubs & Bars wanted proof of their dedication to turn it from a run-down bar into a foodie destination.
“We had to run it as The New Dolphin for three months. Somedays we’d only pull one pint. People wanted us to fail and it was hard to convince the locals, but you just have to crack on.
“It can really test your character, especially as Kimberley was pregnant at the time,” said John.
Specialising in “fish from the quay and meat from the farm,” John’s menu is simple, good, honest food.
He said: “Food doesn’t have to be all frills, not everyone wants that.
“We only use fresh, local ingredients on our menu: fish from the fish quay; game and lamb from Northumberland and beef from Matfen and Hexham in Northumberland, too. I’m a massive believer in respecting meat and other produce.”
So what’s next for John, Kimberley and James?
“Keep doing what we do best: producing good food. We’ll never rest on our laurels,” said John.
Favourite dish to Savour in front of the TV?
Favourite posh nosh?
Truffles. They’re beautiful, but only once in a while.
What ingredient could you not live without?
Butter. It’s amazing for fish sauces.
Three guests you’d have at a dinner party (dead or alive) …
Marco Pierre White, John Lennon and Bob Marley. That would be one hell of a party.