Note: we're defining the West End as the Theatreland area — Leicester Square, Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus — lying inside the circle of Shaftesbury Avenue, Drury Lane, Haymarket and the Strand.
You'll almost certainly have to queue if you want to hit Dishoom on a weekend morning, but let the thought of the bacon naans or Keema Per Eedu (spicy chicken mince laced with chicken liver, topped with fried eggs) keep you going through the wait-time. Or for a just as in-demand and intensely heavy breakfast, head for the steamed bao Sunday brunch at Flesh & Buns. And for a sweet, salty start to a weekday try Jamaica Patty Co, serving banana bread, ackee patties and Blue Mountain coffee from 9am Mondays to Saturdays. Or Fernando's (55, St Martin's Lane, WC2N 4EA) for your full English, open at 7am.
It's hard to narrow down the dumplings of Chinatown, but New World (1, Gerrard Place, W1D 5PA), is one of the few places left still doing a traditional dim sum trolley service during the day. The siu mai (pork and prawn dumplings) are stand-out, but it's all fast, filling and cheaper than you'd expect from the enormous stack of steamer baskets piling up in front of you. And for a takeaway lunch Benito's Hat on New Row and Chipotle on St Martin's Lane are both better than your average burrito.
This area's as strong on theatre menus as you'd hope, with good bets at Morada Brindisa (tapas and chargrilled meat) and Asia de Cuba, for a menu soldering ceviche, empanadas and doughnuts together — and mysteriously pulling it off.
And not actually pre-theatres menus but still fast enough to hit for a quick dinner before or after a show, try On the Bab for Korean steamed buns and sake cocktails, or Condesa for Mexican tapas, mezcal cocktails and a lot of cheese.
If you have a bit more time to spare, there's Babaji Pide — serving Turkish grilled meat, pide (topped flatbreads) and cocktails —- or Tredwell's sleek, shiny basement and British carb-heavy menu. Try Polpo for cichetti (Italian tapas) — you can choose between the standalone branch in Covent Garden or the one sharing space with Ape & Bird on Shaftesbury Avenue. Also from that side of the Med, head to Sartori for Neapolitan pizza and all things Southern Italianate, or to Augustus Harris for Northern Italian specialities in a Venetian bacaro (half gastropub, half wine-bar) setting.
If you can handle a DIY element to your dinner, you should be covered at Shuang Shuang with their Chinese hotpots — mix and match from the broths and dipping sauce ingredients, from the fish, mushrooms and noodles. We recommend the Szechuan-heat of the Mala broth, with as many strips of beef and mystery meatballs as you can feasibly cram into your hotpot. Read our full review here.
It is a perilous fact that the best coffee shops in this part of town are the ones specialising in dessert. Bageriet does great coffee, and hits all your Swedish bakery needs at the same time, and Morelli's ice-cream parlour makes it dangerously easy to go for an espresso and leave with a double scoop of hazelnut gelato.
Serving up coffee to the creative industries, Notes is a café-musicshop-bookshop hybrid and Timberyard offers both café and workspace. And for just straight-up great coffee and maybe a sunny seat on the street, Monmouth Coffee is deservedly popular.
Gastropubs, pubs and bars
This area's obviously awash with bars, but with a fair number of tourist traps for every decent drinking spot. The Harp is a good bet, though, with a small, unpretentious bar and an after-work crowd descending on it like a flashmob on weekday evenings. Lowlander Grand Café is popular for the massive range of Belgian beer they stock, but there's enough wine, stew and, importantly, seating space, that it's worth visiting their bar on the edge of Covent Garden, whatever you happen to be drinking.
For something much more formal, head upstairs at Rules to the cocktail bar, where you can impress your visiting parents with the stately home vibe and expertly-made vespers. And if the rigid midnight closing's too early for your liking, there's the Martini Bar at Christopher's, serving insanely complex cocktails for the post-theatre crowd till 1.30am from Thursdays to Saturdays, along with simpler classics and some bar snacks.
On the stranger end of special, the food at Circus — sushi, sashimi and Asian-influenced mains — comes with a side of cabaret, burlesque and late-night DJ sets. Slide your wine to one side to make room for the fire-breather's feet as he dances down the table.
At Opera Tavern it's special of a more traditional — chandelier-lit and reasonably expensive — sort, although without being stuffy. The food's Italian and Spanish small plates, the wine list's extensive and seats by the bar or in the upstairs dining room would be relaxed enough for a birthday dinner, intimate enough for a date.
And special for brilliance of the food rather than for formality, we recommend The Palomar. This slice of Jerusalem on Rupert Street is loud, full, friendly, and everything's tahini-rich or josper-grilled or sticky with orange-blossom water. Lovely for a fleeting post-theatre hit of Jerusalem Mess (labneh mousse, almond, lemon and cream) and a cocktail, or to spend a full night embedded with a loved one, a booth and an endless succession of sharing plates.