The Elephant House

I had planned to visit this place for months, building expectations on its fame of the “birthplace of Harry Potter”. When my mum came to Edinburgh a few days ago, an opportunity arose to check the place out, on our way to the National Museum. The mummies’ exhibition that followed was slightly disappointing (I was expecting to see an unwrapped body behind a glass, silly me…); but not half as disappointing as The Elephant House.

It had been a busy morning for us and the weather wasn’t exactly what you’d call mid-May-ish, so we were looking forward to sitting down with a cuppa somewhere warm and dry; I did, however, fear that The Elephant would be cram-packed, despite it being Tuesday, early afternoon – it always looks heaving, whenever I happen to go past it. When we entered, we noticed two things: a fair queue and no free seats. Then I saw that the place extended to the back where there were more tables, so I walked up to a waitress who looked at me with tired eyes:

“You have to order first and then we’ll find you a table”

“And if we…,” I started, thinking that I don’t want to end up drinking my coffee standing, but the waitress knew what I was going to ask:

“By the time you get your coffee, there will be more tables”.

She must have said this so many times that one day…

So, we placed ourselves in the queue, and had to choose quickly what we wanted, as, although the queue wasn’t moving much, the orders were taken for a few people in advance – by some tired and irritated looking staff. “We don’t do medium. Small or large only” I was told in a tone of voice suggesting the guy wanted to give me a slap. We went for large then, which resembled more an average medium in other places. We struggled over the choice of a cake, as everything seemed very sweet and sticky, so eventually just got one chocolate cookie between the two of us – not very big, and for a whooping £1.80. And it wasn’t even tasty.

Mocha at The Elephant House

The waitress from earlier was right; just as we left the queue she pointed to us a table by our side. “Isn’t this reserved?” I asked, looking at the wee sign on the table, which she quickly took off after shaking her head (and as we were leaving, the sign reappeared on the table which I found rather amusing). We sat down on hard chairs in this dim, noisy place, and looked at each other, utterly unamused. There was certainly no magic in this venue, but at least it explained why Rowling books are so dark and depressing – if here is where she found her inspiration… We drank our coffees fairly quickly, because neither of us was enjoying ourselves, and the coffee didn’t help one bit. Mum usually drinks filter coffee, so no wonder she didn’t feel very well after having a mocha; but neither did I. It was nicely presented and had good texture, no thick foam on top or separated layers; it was also of good drinking temperature and I did enjoy the first few sips of it. However, something about it just didn’t work quite right, and the more I was drinking, the more weary I felt. It was hard to pinpoint, but the only sensation I could identify and name was that it tasted very heavy on the milk side, which was overwhelming the coffee and chocolate within – especially noticeable when I ran out of cookie to go along with it.

This was a very upsetting experience, firstly, because of the fact that it spoiled our afternoon a bit (we had upset stomachs for a few hours later), but more importantly, because it was another example of a venue living of their reputation, but not standing up to it. The place is obviously making great profit on the masses of tourists who consider it one of Old Town attractions – tourists, who come and go as opposed to locals who might want to visit their neighbourhood shop every now and again to enjoy a coffee and a chat with their favourite staff, which I fear is not the case at The Elephant. The staff is not friendly or very helpful, the place does not look inviting and I find it hard to believe it was rated “the best coffee shop in Edinburgh” by The List. I am happy that I checked it out, because now I know that I won’t do so again, and at least I can advise those Harry Potter fans who, like me, feel obliged to visit, that Rowling’s feel for writing must be much better than her taste for coffee.

Large Mocha: £2.85 (tbc)

Verdict justification: The coffee’s not too bad, but the service and the atmosphere just make you want to leave

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