Review: Glencoe Cafe, Glencoe Scotland

No trip to Scotland is complete without a trip up to the Scottish Highlands. While some travellers will jump straight onto a tour bus that goes up to Loch Ness for a daytrip, I’d recommend renting a car and spending at least two days in the Highlands to truly have time to appreciate the scenery. That’s what we did – renting a cute little eco-cabin in the Glencoe/Ballachulish area with fantastic views of the snow-capped mountains and lochs.

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By the time we spent the morning driving up to Glencoe from Edinburgh, we were more than ready for lunch. That’s what happens when you stop regularly along the way at beautiful outlooks over the Highlands – lunch gets delayed and you get hungry! Luckily Glencoe Café, the only real café in the village, is open almost every day of the week, though times do vary.

Baked Potato with Coronation Chicken, 6.95 GBP
Baked Potato with Coronation Chicken, 6.95 GBP

K was after something particularly hearty, so chose the Baked Potato with Coronation Chicken served with potato chips and a salad on the side. I’d never really encountered ‘Coronation Chicken’ before, but found the roast chicken quite enjoyable with its liberally applied creamy sauce with a slight spice. It made for a particularly tasty topping for the plainer baked potato.

The café owner told us that coronation sauce is made up of a mix of mayonnaise, curry powder and a variety of other spices – you can buy bottles of it in the supermarket, but they make their own. My understanding is that it must be a purely British tradition (perhaps created around the time of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation?) because it’s certainly not something I’ve encountered in Australia before!

Carrot and coriander soup with a pesto, grilled red pepper, tomatoes and Monterey Jack cheese sandwich, 7.25 GBP
Carrot and coriander soup with a pesto, grilled red pepper, tomatoes and Monterey Jack cheese sandwich, 7.25 GBP

I liked the sound of the soup of the day, and chose the Carrot and Coriander Soup with a Cheese, Vegetable and Pesto Sandwich on the side. Unfortunately the ‘coriander’ part of the soup was hard to discern, which makes me suspect that dried coriander had been used in place of its more distinctive fresh cousin. Regardless, it was still a wonderfully sweet and creamy soup.

I liked the simplicity of the sandwich as well with its mix of fresh and pre-prepared ingredients – a tangy cheese paired with sweet grilled capsicum is hard to beat!

Highland Chai Tea (grown in Scotland), 2.25 GBP
Highland Chai Tea (grown in Scotland), 2.25 GBP

I tried a locally grown Highland Chai Tea to go with my lunch – a delicious blend with a strong flavour of cloves and star anise that didn’t overpower the tea blend itself. It’s quite a nice blend to have on its own, and improves the longer it steeps.

Vanilla Slice, 2.25 GBP
Vanilla Slice, 2.25 GBP

We finished our meal by sharing a Vanilla Slice – very different from the vanilla slices that we’re used to Australia and more akin to a chocolate cream slice. I particularly liked the biscuit base with its blend of desiccated coconut that lent the whole slice a bit of texture and flavour.

We had a funny experience while at the Glencoe Café. Seated at the table next to us was an older Scottish couple. The husband was quite chatty, telling us all about his dairy farm in the south of Scotland, debating Scottish and international politics, their trip thus far, the fantastic fishing trip he’d been on…we could barely get a word in edgewise! It also helped to confirm how absolutely terrible I am at deciphering accents – there were times when I could only understand half of what he was saying! Ah, the Scottish accent. I’ll conquer you yet…

Glencoe Café is a great place to drop in for simple homemade food while in the Highlands. If you ask nicely, they’ll even wrap up a few sandwiches for you to take away on a hike through the nearby trails. Well worth dropping in for reasonably priced grub served with a smile!

Glencoe Café is located in Glencoe Village, in the Scottish Highlands. A full address isn’t necessarily – the village is so small that the cafe is hard to miss! 

Review: The Elephant House, Edinburgh Scotland

I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that we spent a fair amount of time in the UK on a pseudo-Harry Potter pilgrimage. Not only did we spend a whole day in the Harry Potter Studios in Leavesden while in London, I did my best to tick off some key sights while we were in Edinburgh.

We joined the Potter Trail free walking tour which took us to places like the graves of two people who may have inspired JK Rowling in her naming of characters – Tom Riddell Senior and Junior for example (Lord Voldemort) and a Scottish poet named McGonagall who was very clearly the inspiration for Deputy Headmistress Minerva McGonagall.

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A key point on the tour for any Harry Potter fan is the Elephant House Café. JK Rowling is known to have written the first few Harry Potter books in cafes around Edinburgh, before increasing fame made public writing outings particularly difficult and she had to retreat to her country estate to complete the series. The Elephant House Café in particular is well known as her café of choice, affording her good views over nearby Edinburgh Castle and George Heriot School which are believed to have inspired her creation of Hogwarts.

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The café has certainly benefited from its association with Rowling, playing host to crowds of Potter fans every day. Newspaper clippings featuring Rowling paper the walls, and the bathrooms are a veritable treasure trove of Potter-related graffiti from fans all around the world.

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Beyond Harry Potter though, the Elephant House actually served up tasty, if simple, café fare ranging from sandwiches and paninis to soups, pies and pastas. We stopped in for lunch on our first day and made sure to grab a table by the window, on the off chance that seeing the same views as Rowling would inspire me to create the next great children’s book series. No such luck so far…

Fentiman's Rose Lemonade, 2.60 GBP
Fentiman’s Rose Lemonade, 2.60 GBP

We shared a sweet drink between us – Fentiman’s Rose Lemonade. I’m particularly liking the fact that in the UK, many cafes, restaurants and bars don’t rely on the usual Coke and Sprite for their customers. They offer a wider range of non-alcoholic soft drinks and juices, many of which are created by smaller producers and offer more unique or organic options. Fentiman’s is a good example of this, offering other drinks such as dandelion juice which makes for a pleasant change from cola!

Chicken pie with mash, 6.25 GBP
Chicken pie with mash, 6.25 GBP

K chose the Chicken Pie served with Mash and Gravy. Pies are displayed cold in the glass cabinet and can be purchased to take away as is – or if you choose to dine in, you can get it warmed up in the kitchen and served with mash as it is here.

The pie was quite well done, with a buttery pastry and an ample amount of hearty chicken chunks in the filling. You could tell that the sauce in the pie was made from real chicken stock as well – and in fact, the filling tasted like a hearty homemade chicken and vegetable soup that had been thickened up before being served directly in a pie.

Bacon, brie and mango panini with a side salad, 4.95 GBP
Bacon, brie and mango panini with a side salad, 4.95 GBP

I chose a toasted Bacon, Brie and Mango Panini served with a side salad. This panini mix is the Elephant House’s answer to the common turkey, brie and cranberry sandwich mix, but with much more pronounced strong flavours in the crispy bacon and sweet mango chutney. A most enjoyable mix, and one that I’ll be using in my toasties at home from now on!

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While on the surface, the Elephant House Café may look like nothing more than a place of pilgrimage for Potter fans, they actually serve up a tasty albeit simple lunch at a very reasonable price. Do yourself a favour – rather than just entering the café to take photos and add to the graffiti in the bathroom walls, sit down with a drink and lunch to enjoy your time in the café. Who knows, maybe the views will inspire you as they did JK Rowling?

The Elephant House Cafe is located at 21 George VI Bridge in Edinburgh, Scotland.