JK Rowling writing in Nicolsons but not at her favourite table


JK Rowling wrote ‘huge parts’ of Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone in Edinburgh’s Nicolson’s cafe, this is:

  1. A history of Nicolsons’ evolution & rebirth & second death.
  2. A memorial to the significance Nicolsons held to Rowling & every Potter-head, as the Rowling anointed nursery* for Harry’s first adventure.
  3. Dun-Dun Delicious’ menu &
  4. my scant thoughts.
* The original idea having struck on a train without paper!

Why eat at 6a Nicolson St?

Well if you've never had a Iron Pot stew bubbling away on the table in front of you then this is a memorable foodie experience, if you squint it’s a cauldron. But that would mean recruiting three to four companions to share, the stews are communal and I’ve yet to wrangle this.

Secondly, having been reinvented eating here is not authentic to the JK 1994 Nicolsons. However it would give you a story rare amongst Potterheads.

Second floor, grey like Vernon’s brain, ‘Dun Dun Delicious’. Formerly Nicolsons
Amazing! Fantastic experience! The staff are really nice with great service! Strongly recommend!
Yang Guo

JK Rowling on Nicolsons

Nicolsons cafe in the 1990s where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter
Witches & wizards signal their membership of their secret community by wearing purple in public. They might also frequent a purple café

This is Nicolsons where I wrote huge parts of the book. This was a really great place to write, because there were so many tables around here that I didn’t feel too guilty about taking a table up too long and that was my favorite table.

I always wanted to try and get that one because it was out of the way in the corner. It was just great to look up when you were writing and stop and think about things and be able to look out on the street which was quite busy.

They were pretty tolerant of me in here partly because one of the owners is my brother-in-law. And I used to say to them "Well you know when it gets published I’ll try and get you loads of publicity" and it was all just a big Joke. No-one ever dreamt for a moment that was going to happen.

Myth busting

Time Magazine 1999:
The Harry Potter books corresponded briefly with a bad patch in Rowling’s personal life. She was newly divorced, temporarily out of work, on the dole and living in an unheated Edinburgh flat. To keep them both warm, she would wheel her young daughter into a cafe and sometimes jot down Harry Potter ideas on napkins.

JKR: “During the day I was writing in cafes as everyone famously knows, but could I just say for the record once and for all 'cause it’s really irritating me: I did not write in cafes to escape my unheated flat, because I am not stupid enough to rent an unheated flat in Edinburgh in midwinter.

It had heating.”

TRUTH Rowling has since retreated on this. Upon arrival in Edinburgh she quickly exhausted her savings to place a deposit on a modern, heated flat. But the first place she stayed alone in was a ‘glorified bedsit’. To straighten out the full story race onto my

Edinburgh cycle tour
Like Chinese whispers the compressed Time story became mythologised with claims Rowling was so poor she wrote the Philosopher’s stone on napkins. Reading it Rowling screamed with laughter. It’s 80,000 words, how would she have kept them ordered? Hole punched them and built leaning towers of punch-files?

“Fireman arrived on the scene to find a 28 year old woman crushed beneath a mountain of ink-blackened napkins. She was declared dead at the scene from severe head trauma.”

Fortunately she wrote on paper pads.

The best thing I ever wrote on was an aeroplane sick bag. Came up with the Hogwarts houses on it. https://t.co/Fut4BvS6iM

— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) December 15, 2017

As Jessica dozed Harry frolicked

JK writes Harry Potter in Nicolosons cafe, Edinburgh university's Old College behind her
Rowling felt like she had ‘penniless divorcee lone parent’ tattooed on her forehead

Rowling describes Harry’s beginnings:
“Eccentric woman dashes into cafes every day, one arm on the buggy, hair everywhere, slings a pile of A4 papers down, orders espresso after espresso and writes madly. At night, back in her grotty bedsit after Jessica falls asleep, she writes a bit more. Without writing, she’d go stark, raving mad.”

I had nothing to lose and sometimes that makes you brave enough to try. https://t.co/ETEk8lcih1

— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) March 25, 2016

In Nicolsons Rowling launched Harry free of Privet Drive and became enraptured. Hermoine, Ron & Harry wheeling around a whole new world, belittled and belittling, discovering and being entrapped; whirring around her head as she wrote furiously.

Rowling was troubled by whether she would be able to afford growing Jessica’s next set of shoes; the hard graft of writing, powered by Nicolsons’ espressos, transported her from her life of fret. As Harry escaped the Muggle world so did she.

 ❝Writing Harry Potter is the most fun you can have without anyone else present.❞ 

Bushy hair!

“Start by writing about things you know about”

Rowling was a teaching assistant in Paris during university, she taught in Portugal, she wrote a book about a school and bushy haired super-swot Hermoine is Rowling’s childhood writ large.

Nicolsons is sold

Early after Rowling’s arrival she was writing in the cafe Neogciants, the manager wanted her table over lunch because she didn’t buy. The management much preferred beloved author Alexander McCall Smith, then a law professor, he paid table rent. Feeling unwanted she left permanently.

Nicolsons was owned by her brother in law, it had perhaps been avoided because she didn’t want to impose, well now it was the best option. Rowling strained her pushchair up the long stairs, they happily welcomed her and Rowling found her new home. She grew to love writing there, it became Harry’s maternity ward.

In 2003 the cafe’s lease came to an end. Rowling’s sister was no longer a nurse, she had retrained as a solicitor and her husband decided to move on too. Nicolsons had always been a struggle, with no ground floor shop front it was too difficult to promote to folk passing on the street.

Her brother in law had dotted the walls of Nicolsons with swathes of paper mache flowers. When they shut up shop, he gave Rowling one, and she kept it above her kettle on her kitchen wall. A talisman from where Harry’s paper bound adventures had blossomed.

A chain opened up, *ALL* you can eat Jimmy Chung’s Chinese Buffet King owned by Eddie Ng. It wasn’t a runaway success, lauded as “distinctly average” and “definitely not the most sophisticated of restaurants and the service isn’t the best I’ve experienced”.

Eddie really began working the Rowling connection in the media, placing a brass placard outside the door, and inviting people to ‘experience the view that inspired a magical new world’.

It kept getting nicked.

the maternity ward of Harry Potter becomes Jimmy Chungs
The red circle cradles the plaque to JK Rowling beneath the window where she gave labour to Harry

In 2006 Edinburgh City of Literature revealed one about midway up to Rowling’s favourite window, where only Hagrid can reach. As a result many self-guided Potter fans are led to believe the book was written in the Black medicine cafe below Rowling’s Nicolsons.

Black medicine have satirised this confusion on their website: “Black Medicine is a coffee shop. Not a pet shop, nor a jazz quintet. It is not a branch of specsavers, and it is not a doctor’s surgery.”

OK we got it. Where can I change into my swimming trunks?


In January 2009 Eddie threw in the towel. He tried to sell Buffet King to JK Rowling for £1 million, saying it ought to be made a museum to the boy who lived. The offer was declined.

OMG how much was Spoon beloved? Loads 💞

Well Eddies begat Spoon, serving "Well-made rustic dishes with punchy flavours and good ingredients". They became THE destination over the festival for artists, the large windows and bright room perfect for waking them up around brunch or lunch. So loved were they that they opened every day, taking 2 weeks holiday in September.

They were less loved by students and other skinflints seeking somewhere to camp whilst working. If you didn’t pay table rent you were asked ‘are you done?’, you weren’t to linger. The waitress service was also relaxed, fitting the rustic vibe.


As the pandemic spread across the world the former owner cannily sold up. The new owner understood what a strong business they had inherited and sought to honour its legacy.

After lockdown it flew over the 2020 festival, even opting out of the chancellor’s "Eat out to help out" ½ price discount scheme. However for the rest of the year much of Spoon’s income derived from their set course evening menu, designed to appeal to crowds from the palatial Festival Theatre across the road.

Come September with theatres still closed Spoon’s custom was devastated. As a newly acquired business they weren’t eligible for government grants, which were paid on historic income, so in October 2020 Spoon broke. The theatres weren’t returning, hope was extinguished.

A bookshelf in Spoon restaurant displays tawdry 'Weekender magazines'
Decoration from Spoon… pure class

Nicolsons, a failure of community

Taking a feather from Fawkes, July 2021 Nicolsons was reborn. The new owners leaned heavily into its Harry Potter heritage and offered a short, middle-of-the-road menu designed to appeal to a broad Western market. The standout was lobster baguette and the accompanying chips, dusted with cajun seasoning, were out of this world, literally the Firebolt of chips, transporting your mouth into orbit 👨‍🚀

Nicolsons Edinburgh from outside Edinburgh university’s Old College

Sadly the reinvention as ‘Nicolsons’ failed. We have highly popular multi-national tour companies here, with young guides keen on having something interesting to say. They perhaps thought outing the owners as new Chinese Scots was ‘unmasking the truth’, that resurrecting the name was a masquerade to cash in on this pillar of British culture.

Cynicism is what passes for wisdom these days
Barrack Obama

Presumably, Nicolsons was wholly unlike the guide’s own ‘employers’ who are paragons, paying masses and masses of taxes to Scotland, Merlin bless them 🙏 They don’t. It’s every circumvention known to man and God and Mundungus Fletcher. Most especially Mundungus Fletcher 🤨

Harry Potter confronts Mundungus Fletcher in Grimmauld Place
Warner Brothers, Mundungus Fletcher

JK Rowling once received a loan from a Glaswegian of Asian descent, whose generosity Rowling esteems highly and she’s well aware of the precarious economics of the cafe trade, so she wouldn’t have admired the marking.

Don’t launch bludgers in Greenhouses, outside them, or near them
Sprout scolding the Hufflepuff Quidditch team

The multinational’s guides blunted Potter pilgrim’s enthusiasm, so after a good trial, Nicolsons had roundly failed and was once again lost to us.

How could it have gone differently?

The owners could have reached out to the tour companies and offered their guides 70% off a meal for them and their friends, as a one-time treat.

The multinationals have guides working for, some of them beneath, UK minimums. If you include unpaid learning time it’s sorrow per hour. You can’t expect deep research or eating out extravagance from them. Eating there would have given their guides something personal to say.

Or perhaps Nicolson’s could have offered a discount to tour company customers, say a free dessert with every meal. It would be weird for guides to curse what they pitch.

An extensive refurbishment of Nicolsons ensued and several months later the restaurant was reopened as something more authentic to the owner’s roots. Dun-Dun Delicious was born. Rowling says alliteration helps names stick.

Nicolsons Edinburgh entrance from Nicolsons Street festooned with ivy
Nicolsons touched a portkey & was transported away

A crowd of reasonable voices

While Rowling was writing the Philosopher’s Stone in cafes she would chat to the staff… ‘I told a few people and I think they thought “Oh my god, she’s really on her uppers and now she wants to write a book!”’

Rowling kept her mission a secret, she had a couple of unfinished novels in drawers; while a well liked friend, a fellow teacher at a language school in Porto Portugal, had completed a novel which went unpublished. Her friend’s passion for writing became a passion for the Simpsons, which all the staff enjoyed together.

Would Rowling suffer the same fate?

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.
wisdom of Albus Dumbledore

All the self-doubt and uncertainty and fears of inadequacy that she endured were proved bone-headed. The Philosopher’s Stone was a triumph. After it was published Rowling began writing the Chamber of Secrets and said

“I’ve been back to a couple of cafes and they’ve said, ‘Oh we know what you do now. We just thought you were very strange’.”

Discover more about Edinburgh & its connection to the boy who lived on JK Rowling’s Edinburgh.

Loving Harry Potter tours

Nicolsons Today

After reinventing as ‘Dun Dun Delicious’, the cafe/restaurant appears to have found a community.

Edinburgh University’s population boasts 50% foreign students. World rankings place Edinburgh University as the fifteenth best university in the world, the University’s fees are reflective of that. Their large body of foreign students mean the university is greatly financially advantaged and the university strives to deliver a good experience at every turn.

The University’s Chinese contingent enjoy having a taste of home, which Dun-Dun Delicious’ mammoth-menu amply delivers.


The opening gimmick of the place was a robot waiter who went around tables greeting customers and delivering their orders. Doubtless Arthur Weasley would be enthralled but it was like your drinks were dispensed by Neville Longbottom, unfortunate 🙄 Fortunately, it had been retired on my last visit. Probably off the roof.

Curated café menu

They’ve been looking over their shoulder, these are standard Edinburgh prices.

Harry Potter figurine sits on the counter in Nicolsons where JK Rowling began writing Harry’s adventures in Scotland Nicolsons fine Italian aragoste cake Nicolsons cake prices Fine Italian chocolate cannonli cake Fine Italian strawberry cannonli cake Fine Italian coffee cannonli cake Fine Italian zaba glione cannonli & Sicikuab Frabgola cake

The only drink Rowling quoted as a regular during the Harry Potter cafe years was Espresso and a glass of water. Poverty is a lot like childbirth. You know it’s going to hurt before it happens, but you’ll never know how much until you’ve experienced it.

Their coffee is artisanal & labour intensive, unfortunately the tea is simple tea bags, which is lousy for Tessomancy. Rowling does it right:

Early Christmas present: Loch Ness monster tea strainer. I suspect this is the mark at which all other gifts will shoot in vain. pic.twitter.com/BB9cmnWFDY

— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) December 24, 2017

The specials menu

Let’s face it -

  1. Ron, poor, has a pet rat who needs a pension.
  2. Hermione, super-nerd mudblood.
  3. Harry, rich, as a baby defeated Voldemort by crying.

They’re the special gang, they’d be eating the special food. THERE’S NO BLOOMIN’ SPECIALS MENU, what is up with this?!


They need Percy Weasley to compile a dull menu, these are the mild ones that won’t make you pray for Death. So far I've had shredded potato, how can potato be hot? It made me cry. I've had their black bean curry, which was almost bearably spicy, and I enjoyed the sweat and sour chicken. A classic vanilla choice I commend to the Witches and Wizards of beige.

The steep staircase up from the street to Nicolsons Edinburgh

Nicolsons, Alastor Moody & the -10° glare

When Professor Moody clomped in on his wooden leg, mad eye swivelling wildly, the waiter asked if he would like the stairlift. Apparently it took quite some explaining and when finally the professor understood his mad eye became very still and piercing then he said ‘I’ve lost a leg, not my bloody Gobstones’.

Fortunately the staff are a resilient lot. My waiter recalled Professor Moody was quite reticent about ordering, eventually opting for a long black coffee but then didn’t drink any. Just sat in a corner twitching & siping from his hip flask.

To be fair the room has multiple potential infiltration points for Dark Wizards. Aurors 🙄

Mount Your Broom!

cyclist on a Harry Potter cycle tour a cyclist cycles on a Harry Potter cycle tour around Edinburgh

NEW: Cycle tours of JK Rowling’s greater Edinburgh with a salting of Harry Potter inspirations, written for fellow fans.

Put the rubber to the pedal, break the Fidelius charm & discover where Edinburgh’s most celebrated adopted daughter has truly lived, written & caffeinated for her last 30 years. As The Boy Who Lived grew more famous the caffeine had to be sought from …shhh…

Stairs & baby Jessica

Some bloggers have doubted Rowling honestly wrote in Nicolsons because of the many stairs. Well truth is she said her legs would shake from caffine (and hunger) having hauled Jessica’s pushchair back down.


Circa 1994 when Rowling was doing the heavy lifting of the Philosopher’s Stone, the cafe was decorated like Phoebee's room in the sitcom Friends. The walls were painted bold primary colours and behind the counter, the wall was adorned with a meadow of brightly coloured papier mache flowers.

Living on dreams and espresso Rowling gravitated to the window tables and enjoyed glancing up from her notebooks, out the window at the students and workers streaming by, living productive lives, as she had once done.

Interior of Nicolsons Edinburgh, a huge hall like room, the nursery of English’s briefest epic, Harry Potter

Today all that remains is these Rene Machintosh style windows. My mother says the design looks like the chosen one, complete with lightning scar. This can’t have harmed.

An abstract Harry Potter lightning scar in the textured glass windows of Nicholsons cafe Edinburgh
If you squint, the boy who lived! Or perhaps my mother has an overabundance of imagination.

Nicolsons’ Lavvys

As you may know the Elephant House cafe’s toilets have become a shrine to The Boy Who Lived & the Mother He Saved, or as Dursleys say ‘a skanky slum’.

When Nicolsons was reborn their toilets were blindingly immaculate. To spare their shiny new loos from becoming a pale imitation of the Pachyderm Palace, Nicolsons diverted fans’ love with a board dotted with post it notes pilgrims wrote heartfelt tributes on.

The toilets are just for sh--ing in OK?
Tinkles fine too.

Myth busting Ron

Seamus and Dean, who were working nearby, sniggered loudly, though not loudly enough to mask the excited squeals from Lavender Brown – ‘Oh, Professor, look! I think I’ve got an unaspected planet! Oooh, which one’s that, Professor?’

‘It is Uranus, my dear,’ said Professor Trelawney, peering down at the chart.

‘Can I have a look at Uranus, too, Lavender?’ said Ron.
Pottermore, Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire

Rowling thought her editor would cut that exchange, because her publishers didn’t want any swearing in the books, it would repel parents. Her editors were historied in mutiny, in the first book they’d asked to cut the Troll in the toilets, while Ron’s too naughty violent bishop trod on shaky ground. But her editor loved this scene, she laughed out loud.

There’s an internet myth that there’s a version of the books with lots of swearing. Rowling felt it would be in character for Ron to swear a lot, and so in the latter half you can see her working around her publisher, with Ron’s cursing cut off by his mother Molly, or quick “Rons!” from Hermione.

In the last few books Rowling doubled down on the problem inventing many sacrilegious references to Merlin’s various bodily appendages that made parents laugh. Invention conquers difficulty.

Can you find a Iron Pot stew you’d love to share with 3 or 4 companions?

The most traditional Manchuria dish is the Goose wok, uncommonly eaten in Scotland it’s also the most expensive AND you need to book it ahead.
The most Scottish wok is venison 🦌 Harry’s Patronus would probably take umbridge if you ate his cousin.
The key ingrediant of Jintoubanao is beef tendon, which takes longer to stew and is difficult to chew.
In Manchuria the mixed sea food would be another authentic dish, they would call it ‘Hearth Fish Wok’; it would also be the most Edinburgh wok. Oyster catching and fishing once being a major industry for us.

The big Iron Pot stews are to be shared, hence their astonishing prices. Their solo meal menu is more affordable and portions ample.

If you’re a hungry Chinese-loving Potter pilgrim Dun-Dun Delicious is the place to be and a story to tell 💞

Giles Moss
229 reviews

Great food and clearly authentic, I've not been to a huge number of Chinese restaurants but judging by the fact almost every other customer was Chinese they must be doing a good job. I was with a large party but this didn't faze them, the food arrived quickly and the robot waitress serving the drinks was brilliant!

There's an extensive choice of dishes from the more 'familiar to Brits' meals like Chow Mein through to what I'd term 'adventurous' dishes for those who are comfortable with more traditional Chinese cooking such as the table-centre hot pots full of random meat cleaved into chunks.

All the portion sizes were generous. One of our party had 'small crabs', and the dish was anything but - half a sea worth of crustaceans arrived! No-one left hungry.

Would happily visit again.


Visiting Edinburgh with your coven & you’ve not read the books? Ah bless, the life of Argus Filch. Not everyone can win at life, here’s the alcohol menu.

One day you too can be Sybill Trelawney 

Trelawney this blog


The summit of my ambition was handing my credit card to someone one day and them saying: ‘Oh my God, you wrote my favourite book’.
JK Rowling

It seems to be preferred to pay at the counter before you depart, less locomotion.

Is Manchurian Bicolsons Nrilliant?

It’s a nice bright room for working in, some wall tables have nearby plug sockets, they’ll serve you coffee, espresso and tea like it’s 1994. Chinese students wash in and out and it’s in the middle of key venues come the largest arts festival in the world. It has the wild spectacle of simmering Iron Pot stews shimmering in the centre of the tables. The owners are doubling down on their core, authentic expertise: Chinese Manchurian witchcraft, no expense spared.

But on this matter I’m like Fred and George toiling on their O.W.L.s (Ordinary Wizarding Levels). ‘I don’t know, I wasn’t built for this. Ask me about Quidditch’ 💁🏻‍♂️

A Potter pilgrim sits at JK Rowling’s corner table in 6a Nicolson Street, now a Chinese restaurant, eating a hearty meal of Sweet & Sour chicken Merlin’s prickly nostril braids, Nicolson’s sweet and sour chicken is lip smackingly delicious! Diabetes my good friend, step this way…

6a Nicolson St. & Rowling today

I asked the staff if Rowling’s ever been back, she hasn’t. Unless polyjuice was involved. She’s said the fame & acclaim have made it impossible.

At the book release for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Rowling was asked “if you could have any superpower what would it be?” she replied “Invisibility, and it is a little bit sad, but I would go to cafes and write all day”.

She may never have returned, but part of her never left.

Rowling’s café legacy

Rowling continued to write in cafes around the city for some time and said: "I feel a bit superstitious because that’s how I wrote the first book and I don’t want to break the run of luck".

Today, while visiting places around the UK researching her Cormoran Strike detective novels Rowling borrows names for characters from waiter and waitresses name badges.

For the moment the vast majority of JK’s writing continues in Edina.
A pilgrim on the Complete Potterhead tour writes a thankyou letter to JK Rowling in Nicolsons, Edinburgh

Nicolsons’ rebirth leaned heavily into its Harry Potter heritage & here I’m visiting with Sue a Potterhead on my 8 hour Complete Potterhead tour writing letters to JK. Rowling receives a few splotchy letters through her letterbox from us each year; her dogs probably eat them.

👻 Is Rowling haunted by Nicolsons?

Is Rowling haunted by Nicolsons?

JKR: “For years now, people have asked me whether I ever dream that I am ‘in’ Harry’s world. The answer was ‘no’ until a few nights ago, when I had an epic dream in which I was, simultaneously, Harry and the narrator. I was searching for a Horcrux in a gigantic, crowded hall, which bore no resemblance to the Great Hall as I imagine it.

As the narrator I knew perfectly well that the Horcrux was jammed in a hidden nook in the fireplace, while as Harry I was searching for it in all kinds of other places, while trying to make the people around me say lines I had pre-arranged for them.

Meanwhile waiters and waitresses who work in the real cafe in which I have written huge parts of [the books] roamed around me as though on stilts, all of them at least fifteen feet high.

Perhaps I should cut back on the caffeine?”

A great crowded noisy hall, sounds a lot like…?

It also fits the third cafe she took flight to, like a glove. Discover it on my 4 hour tour, for those for whom Harry is family.

Long Harry Potter tours, longer memories

Harry Potter sights nearby

The Elephant House café is 6 minutes walk and serves food if Nicolsons is overflowing.

Teviot Row House is 5 minutes walk. It’s Scottish palatial gothic architecture is very much Hogwarts and it’s Britain’s oldest student union building.

Divine Rowling’s future with a palm reading at JK Rowling’s Edinburgh Award; 7 minutes walk.

*Lunch is included. Or is it? Terms & conditions apply.

Visiting? Choose your Avatar so we know how to greet you.

Multi-nationals, based outwith Scotland such as Sandemans, persistently ran tours which massively breached Scotlands First Minister’s guidance, thereby spreading disease. 234,000 UK citizens, no small number, have died. Loved members of people’s families wiped.

Local companies have endured having their guides on their tours, taking notes & transcripts, to help build their own versions. They call this ‘sieving’ or ‘filleting’, their partners believe they ‘do it properly’ & are... sieving for gold?

This reduces local tour operators & Scotland 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 because their guides get little, Sandemans has circumvented our Legal minimum wage & much of the profits are sucked abroad. It also harms honest - originated the work - competition, because the multi-nationals lean on a cartel they’ve built with hotels & hostels. These partners, some ‘pocketed’ for a fee, spotlight multi-national’s ‘sieved’ tours, building their review dominance.

There’s little motivation to do original work if you expect the work won’t pay. We’re being sieved to the bottom. There’s little need for tourism if its gift is congestion & hardship.

Please do not visit & norm ‘sieving’.

If you go on a multi-national’s tour you empower brands who murder 🤢

Work & ethics should pay 💪
Reject the fatcat cartel 😾↔😼↔😾 Prefer local tour providers {Me, PotterTrail} who would love to host you, or maybe just go to Manchester instead.

Go well

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