Food & drink: Martins West balances Scottish fare with California flair


Who doesn't like haggis? If you don't know what it is, brace yourself. Haggis is sheep's innards, hearts, livers, sweetbreads and kidneys. In Scotland, the lungs are also used, but not in the U.S. The organs are mixed with suet, onion, oats, spices and stock -- haggis typically resembles corned beef hash when finished.

At Martins West Gastropub in Redwood City, the ingredients are boiled and minced to a pudding consistency, stuffed into sheep casings and become sausage-like. A stick is inserted. The haggis is breaded and deep-fried. The result is haggis on a stick ($8) and it looks like a corn dog. Rutabaga-apricot mustard accompanies. It's an appealing, fun and unusual way of serving the national dish of Scotland.

Martins West is all about Scotland. Though co-owner Moira Beveridge's family lived in Menlo Park, they operated a hotel in Scotland for years and she spent summers living in different parts of Europe. She graduated from the California Culinary Academy with a degree in hospitality management.

Beveridge's husband and Martins West co-owner Michael Dotson, a San Diego native, has cooked extensively in top restaurants in Europe and California, including as executive chef at Evvia in Palo Alto for four years. It was at Evvia the couple met. Dotson was an early proponent of farm-to-table and cooking what was local, fresh and sustainable. It was the warmth and energy of the Scottish pub that inspired the couple.

A gastropub is a tavern serving high-quality food. Martins West balances food and beverages with a massive lineup of scotch, domestic craft whiskeys, imported whiskies and malts, small-batch craft beers from across the globe and a wine list that won't disappoint.

Martins West has been open since 2009 in the historic Alhambra building on Redwood City's Main Street, where Wyatt Earp was a regular at the downstairs saloon when his common-law wife, Josie, sang at the adjacent upstairs theater more than a century ago. Tamer today, but the interior still exhibits its no-frills past with sturdy wood tables, a long bar and quiet lighting.

Besides haggis, the rest of the fare fared well. Haggis is a staple while the rest of the menu evolves seasonally. On a recent visit, the bone marrow appetizer ($14) featured two large bones filled with creamy marrow that was easily scooped onto of hunks of toasted baguette. Anthony Bourdain called marrow "God's Butter," and it's hard to disagree. At Martins West, it's served with a kohlrabi, radish and mustard salad.

The fish and chips ($19) was delectable. The beer-battered Pacific cod was meaty and crisp. The batter was just right -- not overly breaded, but enough to keep the fish crunchy. The generous portion was served with tandoori roasted chips (fries) and a creamy celery-root tartar sauce.

The pork belly buttys ($12) were slider-sized scotch-cured pork belly, served with shredded apple, fennel and frisee. The larger-sized pork belly sandwich ($15) used the same pork belly, cooked for 36 hours, with miso mustard, mayo and apple.

The chicken breast ($21) was served with chanterelles, pear and thyme velouté sauce, preserved lemon pistou and a white pudding made from chicken suet, oatmeal, bread and other ingredients. It had a great flavor profile with the pistou and veloute pooling like a soup in which to mop the chicken.

I was intrigued by the roasted tomato pudding ($19). It wasn't exactly a pudding -- more like a fried patty held together with tomato gel. The two patties had more flavor than I would have thought, delicate but decisive. Braised shiitakes, braised lettuce and avocado mousseline made the dish memorable.

Desserts were less memorable. The "Not Grandma's Cobbler" ($10) of peach compote, nectarines, pluots, thyme ice cream, mini buttered scones and orange-blossom crème fraîche did not come together. The peach compote was overripe and watery nestled under not-close-to-ripe nectarines. Only the pluots were just right. The bland mini buttered scones added nothing. The whole was much less than the sum of the parts.

The Guinness ginger bread ($10) -- key lime curd, espresso emulsion and Chantilly crème -- sounded better than it was. It didn't taste bad, it just lacked pizzazz.

Sticky toffee pudding ($9) was a flavorsome round of date cake and almond bastilla (pastry), topped with brown-sugar ice cream. It was the best of a weak dessert lineup.

Service was on point but the kitchen was sometimes uneven. Some courses came too quickly, others took too long, amplified by how busy the restaurant was. There is also a comprehensive libations menu.

At Martins West, the food is certainly worthwhile and the haggis on a stick so memorable I purchased one of their "I love haggis" T-shirts. Come on, try it. You'll like it.

Martins West Gastropub

831 Main St., Redwood City



Hours: Monday-Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Thursday-Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 11:30 p.m.

Reservations: yes

Credit cards: yes

Parking: street

Alcohol: full bar

Happy hour: Monday-Friday, 4-7 p.m.

Corkage: $15

Children: yes

Takeout: yes

Delivery: no

Outdoor dining: no

Noise level: moderate to high

Bathroom cleanliness: good

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