By Frank Sabatini Jr. | Restaurant Review
He kept locals waiting with bated breath before they could finally indulge in Scottish pub fare, some of which couldn’t be found anywhere in San Diego County.
Yet after a four-month period that saw a couple of opening dates come and go did Peter Soutowood expose us to Fourpenny House in the heart of La Mesa.
The delays, due mainly to construction issues, were worth the wait. Upon stepping inside, customers are transported into an environment of weathered wood, whitewashed stone and booth pillows adorned with hand-sewn tartan covers — precisely the elements Soutowood encountered in pubs and inns he frequented while exploring his heritage in Scotland.
A cozy nook with a fireplace sits just inside the entrance. It’s followed by a small, open kitchen and an intimate bar stocked with single-malt Scotch whiskies. There are also craft beers, including a malty, semi-bitter Fourpenny Ale brewed onsite. With four tanks in the back, more are in the pipeline such as a blonde ale using Scottish malts and yeast.
The food is sinfully hearty, just as you’d expect from a windswept country accustomed to long winter slumbers.
Southowood, an architect by trade, recruited former Silver Gate Yacht Club chef David Chenelle to head the kitchen. He taps into Soutowood’s family recipe box for making bread incorporating spent beer grains as well as shortbread cookies big enough to feed tea parties of four. Both are unique palate-pleasing finds that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Visiting midday as a twosome, we perused a lunch menu that is decidedly more concise than the dinner card, from which you’ll find roasted salmon, ale-braised mussels and flatbreads. I craved a Scotch egg, which is a dinner-only item. Yet with a bit of desperate pleading, the kitchen kindly made an exception.
This was a gorgeous version of a Scotch egg, encased traditionally in finely ground pork sausage but set atop mashed potatoes and encircled by lush stout gravy.
Another wildly rich starter was partan bree, the Scottish term for seafood soup. Chenelle’s recipe uses crab, salmon and lots of cream. Count yourself lucky if its available when you visit, as he rotates it throughout the week with Guinness stew and Scottish game soup.
Curries are common throughout the U.K., per generations of Anglo-Indian citizens that served in the British Raj during the 19th century and returned to the motherland with a taste for exotic, spicy foods.
Behold the thick, orange-tinted curry sauce served here with french fries, and the droplets of yellow curry sauce mingled with spicy mango chutney that comes on a board of roasted cauliflower. The latter tasted especially complex and novel, despite cauliflower’s long-running day in the sun.
Fiercely original are the Yorkshire pudding wraps. Chenelle turns the egg-flour-milk batter into crepe-like tortillas and stuffs them with a choice of pork “banger” sausage, chicken tikka masala or veggies with English cheddar and pesto.
We chose the former, which resembled a smooth omelet filled with the mildly spiced meat plus potatoes, red onions and roasted tomatoes. If you arrive with a taste for breakfast, this will serve you well.
Fish and chips are the closest thing to mediocrity you’ll find here, and still, they’re above board. The plate featured several strips of light, fluffy cod enveloped in crispy batter infused with the Fourpenny Ale. The creamy, tangy house-made tartar sauce was a high point.
Since opening earlier this month, Sundays are becoming a thing. It’s when Fourpenny House serves breakfast (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) followed immediately thereafter by traditional “Sunday roast.” For $28, you can score a fresh salad, a choice of lamb, beef or salmon with side dishes, and scones and shortbread for dessert.
Regardless when you drop in, the pub sends you to the land of bagpipes with all its rustic and caloric splendor. And as it currently stands, there are no other Scottish-themed establishments in our region.
— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com.