Harry Potter dining at the Leaky Cauldron and Three Broomsticksby Roan Poulter, contributing writer
I have stumbled upon a miraculous discovery. A magical place where counter service food is delicious and the décor is outstanding, but most importantly, where you are guaranteed a table even on the busiest days. The bad news is it's about 30 minutes north of Walt Disney World.
Now I know some of you may not think that a guaranteed table is important, but I would respond that you must never have purchased a heavy tray of food only to find every possible table is filled with families eating their bagged lunches, waiting for parades, or just sitting down for no appreciable reason. Well friends and loyal readers, there is hope and it just happens to be in another magical place.
The Leaky Cauldron and Three Broomsticks are essentially identical restaurants at the two Universal Orlando parks, both placed within the immersive Harry Potter world. These counter service restaurants deliver traditional English fare while maintaining and even upping the immersion into the magical realm.
The experience starts with a line, as so many theme park experiences do, where you can see menus and plastic renditions of the available selections. When a cashier is available you are directed to them and place your order. You are then given a candle stick and pointed toward the seating staff. This is the point of excellence, for once in the capable hands of your table witch or wizard, you will within moments be sitting in a cleared table. It's that simple. No hunting in vain, no standing behind someone waiting for them to finally decide they're done. Even on the busiest of days we have been taken directly to a table.
The candelabra has a number on it that is noted by the seating staff. Some amount of time later your food is brought to your table. No toddler trying to carry their nuggets to the table, no overwhelmed soccer mom trying to juggle two trays on her double stroller.
Here's what we had:
Fish and Chips – A flaky white meat North Atlantic Cod with a light and freshly fried batter that has for us been excellent over several visits. The chips are good if not remarkable.
Bangers and Mash – Roasted English sausage with creamy mashed potatoes, oven roasted tomatoes, sautéed onions and cabbage, minted peas, and onion gravy. The sausage is roasted to perfection, slight blackening it with enough tension in the casing to make the juicy interior burst upon cutting. The sausage is slightly spicy, but only in the best interest of this savory treat. Everything else is best mixed up and eaten en masse. The gravy has enough flavor and the mashed potatoes seem to be made from scratch.
Banger – Roasted English sausage, mustard aioli, roasted tomatoes, sautéed cabbage and onions on a crusty roll. This is the same sausage as above, but now served sandwich style for a slightly smaller meal. Again, all the flavors come together beautifully. The sautéed onions give a bit of sweetness that sets off the sausage perfectly. Served with potato wedges.
Cottage Pie – A savory combination of beef and vegetables in a potato crust served with a garden salad. We found our pie was a little on the dry side. It is possible that ours sat and the potatoes soaked up the moisture. It was tasty, if a little on the bland side. The salad was arugula based, thus a little bitter for my taste. The dressing was good and applied in a reasonable amount.
Ploughman's (Serves 2) – touted as a feast of English cheese, crusty bread, field green salad, oven roasted tomatoes, cornichon pickles, apple and beet salad, Branston pickle and scotch eggs. This reminds me of a deconstructed English Cobb salad. There are some truly disparate flavors here, some of which are almost bound to be liked and disliked. Some of the cheeses are mild, some are rather potent. I found the apple and beet salad to be inedible. The Scotch eggs are interesting, but the texture is so different my mouth kept telling me to spit it out. It's a fun adventure in flavors for the bold.
Butterbeer – I suppose I would be remiss if I didn't say something about Butterbeer. I will say that no meal here is complete without it. How they have convinced us that a cream soda with butterscotch foam is worth $8 is a testament to the level of immersion. It's delicious. For those who might fancy something a little stronger, ale houses are just steps away.
Our ratings are as follows:
Dad (42): 4.9 of 5 – This is the ultimate example of what counter service can be. The food is fresh and the flavors are true not only to the theming, but high examples of English fare. The ability to always get a seat cannot be overstated.
Mom (42): 4.8 of 5 – For the amount of food it's very reasonably priced. Love that our annual passes get us a discount. The food is a little on the heavy side.
Daughter (18): 4.8 of 5 – Loves that there is no break in theming for this restaurant from the outside. Loves the Bangers and Mash, wouldn't order the Cottage Pie again. Doesn't care for Butterbeer, too sweet.
Son (15): 5 of 5 – Helpings are generous. So cool to be able to look up the crooked walls. Butterbeer is the best thing, except for La Fou's Brew.