Update: Read the review and see the video here.
I had heard that Three Broomsticks, the restaurant at the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter, finally opened for lunch and dinner, so I flew on out to Universal’s Islands of Adventure. (I wish I could have flown -- I would have saved 14 bucks on parking, but don’t get me started on that.)
Actually, it’s a little generous to classify this as a restaurant. It isn’t even fast-casual, where you order your food and someone brings it to you. Here, you order your food at one station then proceed to a designated window to pick it up, then carry the tray with your food to a table. True, someone stops you at the entrance to the dining area and assigns a table to you, but make no mistake, this is a fast-food eatery.
The menu, however, attempts to be more ambitious. Two of the signature items are shepherd’s pie and fish and chips to reflect the setting of the Harry Potter adventures. J.K. Rowling could have set the books in Provence or Tuscany or any other place known for good food, but no. And by the way, my sources tell me that Rowling has been hands-on in nearly every aspect of the development of this particular island of adventure, which is no doubt why there are so many fun bits of painstakingly minute detail.
I wonder, though, if she’s tasted the shepherd’s pie? If she’s such a stickler, surely she would not have green-lighted this dish. I mean, Great Britain isn’t known for its cuisine, but come on.
It certainly looked good. It’s a pot-pie-sized serving in an aluminum dish set inside a plastic serving dish. The mashed potatoes are piped on top in a decorative peak and scorched brown under a broiler. Sadly, the potatoes were about as dried out as Minerva McGonagall. And the meat mixture underneath was flavorless. The menu says the pie contains ground beef and vegetables. There were miniscule flecks of orange in the beef that may have at one time been part of a larger piece of carrot. But any evidence that other vegetables may have been involved was missing.
The fish and chips were an entirely different matter. It was a good-sized serving of three fillets of North Atlantic cod bundled up in golden jackets of batter. The fish had a fresh taste, and they were fried just right so that both the flesh and the batter were properly cooked. The fish was served with a small ramekin of tartar sauce -- too small if you like tartar sauce -- but there also are little packets of malt vinegar at the condiment counter. Sprinkle some of that on your cod. The chips were good, too: fat fingers of fried potatoes. I've rarely had fish and chips this good in Great Britain.
Both dishes came with a side salad that featured anemic iceberg lettuce, a couple of cucumber slices, tomato wedge and some strands of carrot and purple cabbage for color. It was fairly mundane, and with the inelegant packet of dressing and wan lettuce, unattractive overall. If you’re going to serve a salad like that, why bother at all?
Aside from a Cornish pasty, the rest of the menu seems to be comprised of the basic chicken and ribs that can be found at other food outlets in the park. Prices are a few dollars too much. I paid $11.99 for the fish and chips and $9.99 for the shepherd's pie.
But of course the item that has been causing the biggest stir is the butterbeer, the fictional drink Harry and his friends (also fictional, it should be pointed out) drink in the books and movies. Executive chef Steven Jayson and his team not only had to create a drink with no basis in reality, they had to create one that would pass the muster of the woman who thought it up.
They came up with a carbonated liquid that looks like an amber lager (butterbeer is nonalcoholic), sort of a light sarsaparilla, less rooty than root beer, that on its own doesn’t seem to have much flavor. The key is the foam that is added on after the drink is tapped into the glass. That’s where you get all the creamy, buttery flavor.
It’s proving to be quite popular. There is a wagon outside the restaurant set up only to dispense butterbeer -- and to take the $1.99-$2.99 fee for the 9- or 12-ounce serving -- with a long line of eager customers who could walk about 30 feet to the (air-conditioned) Hog’s Head pub that is attached to Three Broomsticks and get served almost immediately. A server from the pub was working the end of the outside line when I visited.
Three Broomsticks is loaded with details in its design. It’s constructed with weathered wooden beams and rafters that soar high up in the steeply pitched ceiling. Rickety looking walkways are overhead, and spiral staircases climb out of sight. There are large stone fireplaces that appear to have centuries of soot on them. Even some big black pipes that run along one wall have a layer of dustiness. Towels and blankets are draped over a balcony. Very nicely done.
Of course there are thousands of other such details outside the restaurant in the rest of the Wizarding World, which is blanketed with snow. It’s all quite beautiful.
3BSticks has been serving breakfast for a couple of weeks, but today was the first time workers were told to show up for the later meals. They will be open sporadically, I’m told, until the official opening June 18.