The Elephant House

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The Elephant House
21 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1EN
  • Telephone 0131 220 5355
  • Food served Mon–Thu 8am–8pm; Fri–Sun 9am–11pm
  • Average price £6.50 (lunch); £8.50 (evening meal)
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Photo of The Elephant House

Located handily for shopping, working or studying, the Elephant House is an institution. It's something between an unofficial Edinburgh University student cafeteria and a tourist attraction in its own right, as JK Rowling is reputed to have written some of the first Harry Potter novel in the back room. The combination of coffee, meals, internet terminals and community fliers and posters create an atmosphere that attracts a mixed and friendly clientele. The food is similarly eclectic and inviting. Lunch choices include salads, quiche, filled rolls, baked potatoes, spanakopita and pizza - all wholesome and satisfying, with enough vegetable content to get you well on your way to five-a-day. To balance the brain food, the desserts are luxurious: a mesmerising choice of sticky cakes such as apple pie with a caramel topping are particularly lip-smacking, as are tray-bakes and signature elephant-shaped shortbread. A comprehensive range of international teas and alcohol is on hand to wash down the freshly prepared meals. With such an appealing menu, it can be difficult to find a table. But it's well worth trying to make your way to the large back section and try to sit at one of the tables with inspiring views of Edinburgh Castle.

Eating & Drinking Guide

The 2019/20 edition of The List's Eating & Drinking Guide is out now – only £5.95 (+p&p).

Perhaps hoping that diners will be distracted by its association with the boy wizard and his chums, the erstwhile haunt of JK Rowling appears to lavish more attention on its Potter-themed loos than it does on its food. While, admittedly, it has recently come under new management, and the menu is tempting, there is a tendency for some options to run out of an evening while the remnants are largely uninspiring. Poor ingredients lets down a bacon double cheeseburger, while a Caesar salad is an insipid attempt at a bistro standard. Cakes and coffee are the main draw in the daytime to the students and tourists who create a lively buzz in the airy back room. Generally these are excellent, though the trademark 'hot chocissimo' is watery, while the ice-cream in the affogato is completely melted by the time it arrives, and makes for a disappointing finale.

  • High point: The view to the castle and over Greyfriars kirkyard
  • Low point: Eyes off the ball when it comes to food
  • Average price: £6.50 (lunch); £8.50 (dinner)
  • Provides: Vegetarian options (at least ¼ main courses), Children's portions, Children's high chairs, Wheelchair access, Free wi-fi
  • Music on stereo: Jazz
  • Capacity: 75
  • Largest group: 75
  • Open since: 1995
  • Number of wines sold by the glass: 2
  • House wine: £12.50 per bottle