For those of us whose fantasy was (and still is) to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I think that I have gotten as close as anyone could ever get. Here at Oxford University, a visit to one of the many college’s Grand Halls for any meal brings visions of the Sorting Hat and owls whizzing by. In fact, the Great Hall in the Harry Potter movies was actually filmed in and modeled after the Grand Hall at Christ Church College here at Oxford. Although clearly there aren’t candles floating above you and there is no Dumbledore to greet you, it is still an unforgettable experience.
Daunting as it may appear, dining within one of the Grand Halls is much like grabbing lunch in a much smaller, more formal Carson buffet setting. With a swipe of your student ID, you gain access to a small variety of foods, based on a prefixed daily menu. Some of time the meals feature typical English dishes, such as fish and chips or bangers and mash (which, for such an exciting name, is essentially just a plate of sausages and mashed potatoes). Other days, the cuisine transports you around the world, with the kitchen serving up tandoori chicken or lamb in an Italian osso buco sauce.
Meal times are informal during the day, however dinner each night is formal and students are required to wear robes. Although the word ‘robe’ conjures images of full-length, billowing gowns, in reality they are just short, black linen jackets that can be worn with really whatever you choose.
The High Table, or the big horizontal table at the front, is reserved specially for the Fellows, or the senior administrators of each college. All around you, paintings of former Wardens (principals of the college) peer down upon you as you grub down. These life-sized pictures give the Hall even more of a magical feel, which makes imagining you are dining at Hogwarts even easier.
If ever you have the chance to explore Oxford and eat in one of the Grand Halls, don’t hesitate to do so, but maybe leave the broomstick and wand at home.