Our Writer in Residence, Olivia Jones, writes about one of Donny’s greatest assets, as we celebrate pubs reopening.
Images : Model Bipolar Abdul wears garms by Natural Dyer, photographed by Blue Bordem at The Salutation pub to mark the re-opening of local pubs.
As the country warily steps out from its post pandemic hibernation, we can finally rejoice as we reconnect with our friends and families in person, instead of on screen. We can walk past our favourite locals with excitement that they’re opening up again instead of being woeful that they’re empty at 7pm on a Friday night. Most importantly we can while the hours away under a blanket, next to a space heater instead of walking around the park… again… with a coffee to keep our fingers from freezing. Amongst those cherished locals is Doncaster’s best ‘worst kept secret’; a beautiful pub that strikes a perfect balance between Thai cuisine and British culture. From the outside The Salutation seems unassuming as a traditional English pub teeming with beer, high spirits and friends; but tucked away upstairs is an award winning restaurant that transports you to the buzzing streets of Bangkok. I, like so many, am lucky enough to have many happy memories in The Salutation; which in a way is part of its allure, it makes a little home for itself in your heart.
Not least because of how charming it is as a pub but also because of the incredible staff, whose warmth and presence make you feel as though you were always a part of the family. One of the contributors to that ambience is the fact that The Salutation is a family run pub and it’s rare that you could pop in for a ‘quick one’ without bumping into either Ton, Graham, Josh or Jenny, The Wilsdons. The Wilsdons have redefined The Salutation over the last five years, adding to an already beloved local landmark; bringing with them an energy that has permeated the community and solidifies the self title of ‘The Best Pub in Doncaster’.
Speaking to Josh and Jenny showed how much they both embody the spirit of “The Sal”, both dual heritage with Thai and English backgrounds we spoke about growing up Thai in the north. For Josh, who is the pub manager and dabbles in acting in his spare time, it wasn’t always something he noticed. Similarly to many 20 something Doncastrians he recalls a childhood spent going to Haven beach holidays with his grandparents and spending weekends with his cousins whilst his parents ran one of their restaurants (The Bangkok which used to be on Copley Road or later The Royal Elephant which used to be on Netherhall Road). On occasion there were some less positive experiences, he mentions an incident with a teacher calling him Taiwanese whilst telling him off and other students continuing the trend deliberately. For Jenny, who’s currently studying Business Management at Sheffield Hallam, being nearly ten years younger than Josh, she was the youngest of her cousins so found those bonds in relationships with her friends instead. Though having more of a western upbringing both Josh and Jenny are still very connected with their Thai heritage, the expressed interest in learning their mothers native language and spoke fondly of the village that she grew up in, near Ratchuburi.
As earlier stated one of the many endearing characteristics of The Salutation is that it’s a family owned and run pub. When I asked Josh and Jenny what it was like working with family both laughed dryly then went on to talk about how it was exactly what you would imagine working with your family would be like. Sometimes it is stressful, sometimes it is brilliant but it is always authentic. Jenny, has spent most of her formative years around the pub, she started there as a glass collector when she was 14 years old and recently celebrated her 19th birthday in the beer garden so it’s been almost a home away from home for her. For Josh, it was a conscious decision to work with his family, “After I left Uni, I had to decide did I want to go off and do my own thing or did I want to stay and help my family make The Sal what it is” and thankfully for us he decided to stay as Josh’s infectious laugh and dramatic inflections have helped make the Tuesday night pub quiz a staple in The Salutation roster.
It’s impossible to talk about the roaring success of the Salutation without mentioning its crowing glory The Thai at The Salutation. This incredible restaurant not only feels a world away but is home to some of the most delectable dishes in Doncaster, with recipes that Ton (Chintana) has been cooking since she was a young girl. Most popular is Ton’s Massaman, a mild but deeply flavoured slow cooked curry with meat that melts in the mouth and paired with soft sticky rice. Funnily enough, before taking over The Salutation, there had been talks with the previous owners about hosting a Thai night upstairs function room in which the restaurant now resides. Since taking over The Thai at The Salutation has gone on to win both “Best of Asia” and “Restaurant of the Year 2019” in the East Side Restaurant Awards, an incredible feat for a business so early in establishing itself.
Clearly a dynamic addition to Doncaster’s hospitality scene; I wanted to know more about the local communities response to the Wilsdon’s and their remodelling of the institution that is The Salutation. At first, Josh remembers, there were some concerns that they would “ruin” the place and even had some staff members leave but over the years they have managed to prove that not only could they keep the inherent values of the original pub but they could also inject a contemporary energy into it too. “You know it’s one of the oldest pubs in Doncaster, so she deserves to be busy” Josh later mentioned “People always want to go to Leeds or Sheffield so we thought why couldn’t we recreate that in Doncaster? Why couldn’t you have that kind of experience with us?”. Jenny added “It’s the people that make the pub but we just couldn’t have imagined how big it would’ve gotten, I’m just amazed”.
Moving forward The Salutation will be expanding its already sizeable beer garden with lots of special additions, “we want to recreate that feeling that you get in Thailand when you’re surrounded by good food, good people and crisp cold beer”. Whilst there are some surprises that are being kept under wraps for the time being, I was privy to them and they are definitely worth keeping an eye out for. As soon as COVID restrictions allow, the pub will be bringing back its infamous live performances, open mic nights and has flirted with the idea of comedy nights; they’ve even booked a Jazz band for New Years Eve 2021! For Jenny, her focus is completing her degree and potentially expanding the Wilsdon dynasty with more restaurants and venues. So for die hard Salutation fans and those who just want to see local businesses succeed, watch this space.
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