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.
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.
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.
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…
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!
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.
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!
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.