Exeter’s newest themed bar hasn’t had the most magical of starts. A disappointing 26% of TripAdvisor users marked the Cauldron Inn as “Terrible”, and a further 20% a half-hearted “Average”. Is the Cauldron Inn really just a few sickles short of a galleon? I headed down to 15 Gandy Street to find out.
Stepping into the three-story bar, first impressions are positive. Gentle Indie-Folk tinkles from the speakers and creates an ambient mood despite the slightly surprising jolts of a techno remix of the Harry Potter opening theme interspersed with the background music. A 7-foot chalkboard by the bar boasts an eclectic cocktail menu of Dragons Breath (Cinnamon, Gold liquor, Blood orange Vodka, and Grenadine, ‘garnished with flame and fireballs’), and Crackling Cackle (Butterscotch Schnapps, Frangelico, Caramel syrup) among various others – all for the very reasonable price of ‘£6 ¾’ (or £6.75 to our muggle readers). We tried both cocktails, and both were ample in size and deliciously moreish.
The Cauldron Inn’s food takes a somewhat marginal role to the drinks, with the magical theme tapering out slightly in place of a selection of homely classics. There is certainly no pretence of a fine dining experience – menus made up in the style of The Daily Prophet offer unapologetic carby comforts done well; filled cobs, pizzas, soups, and chicken wings.
We ate our pizzas in one of the inn’s five themed rooms – an intimate, candle-lit space surrounded by bookshelves. If you’re after some privacy with your cocktails, however, it might be worth avoiding this spot, as it was home to one of the two iPads staff seemed to be using to process the bar’s comings and goings. Most closely paralleled to the Harry Potter franchise was the room next door to us done in the style of the Potions classroom in the Hogwarts dungeons. Glass apothecary jars of ambiguous magical ingredients lined the walls, offset by a glow of scattered lanterns.
Attentive staff members were never far away, flitting between the rooms, providing a warmth of service to make Madame Rosmerta proud. That being said, a certain erraticism still pervaded the bar of the ground floor. Our cocktail order seemed to stir some confusion among the newer staff, who are perhaps yet to get to grips with the full drinks menu, and a shortage of glasses slowed service quite considerably. Admittedly, the full theatrics of my Crackling Cackle was diminished slightly by the basic pint glass resorted to after minutes of searching for its original container to no avail. Regardless, I think this is representative of little more than teething problems within an up-and-coming independent start-up; details I have no doubt will be ironed out as the Cauldron Inn establishes itself.
A couple of friends who have also visited the Cauldron Inn commented on elements of low-budget appearances, and so I went semi-expecting the bar’s inside to be more Grimmauld Place than Malfoy Manor. It is true that the place doesn’t reflect the gargantuan Warner Bros. budgets we’ve come to associate with any offshoots from the Harry Potter franchise, but why should it? The bar’s independent charm and slightly ramshackle quality give it more of a magic than has ever been achieved by the glossy, corporate affairs that have been cropping up at an exponential rate since the first film’s release.
15 Gandy Street’s newest inhabitant is a welcome addition to a city already steeped in Potter-inspired magic and mystery. In the continuous bitter wait for my belated Hogwarts acceptance letter, I can only hope that the Cauldron Inn ‘will always be there to welcome me home’ from another day of Muggle campus banality.
– by Rosa Burles