As the beating heart of the West End, Leicester Square is a melting pot where you’re as likely to find confused tourists looking for M&M's World as you are raucous stag dos, office workers or Londoners enjoying the bright lights. Yes, there are terrible tourist traps, but there are also plenty of great affordable eating and drinking spots. Whether you’re after a quick bite between galleries, a restaurant that won’t rip you off, or need to know where to find a seriously sexy cocktail, let's get you fixed up...
Where to get breakfast in Leicester Square
Fiori is a popular spot for a laid-back, no-frills breakfast with tourists and regulars alike. On the corner of Cranbourn street, the café has a sit-down menu of decent pastries, muffins and the like for a couple of quid, and good value bigger plated breakfast items like avocado on sourdough for a lot less dosh than most of the locale — plus bacon sandwiches and full Englishes.
For something more high end, follow in Oscar Wilde’s footsteps towards Soho — for the lovely spread at Kettner’s which never fails to impress. Things have changed since his day — and latterly since the Soho House group takeover — but their smoked salmon and scrambled eggs is always welcome of a morning.
Alternatively, try the very luxe Ham Yard Hotel from the Firmdale group, who know a thing or two about a breakfast buffet (as they should for a £16 continental breakfast). You might spot a celeb over your very good muesli or granola. There's a dizzying array of juices to match.
For tasty baked goods on the hop, wander round Chinatown and see what you fancy from Chinatown Bakery or Kova Patisserie's Japanese goodies: we'll have a custard bun thank you, though later in the day the goldfish cones are the thing.
Where to eat lunch in Leicester Square
There's little that makes us happier than a steaming bowlful of ramen on a cold winter's day and Kanada-Ya's are up there with the best of them – all nine of them. We're suckers for the traditional super rich and creamy tonkotsu, but the luxurious truffle version (pork bone broth, chashu pork collar, spring onions, porcini truffle paste, white truffle oil and seaweed) might just have the edge. Prepare to queue at busy times.
On a different Japanese note, the £7 ish soups, noodles and salads at the Japan Centre continue to bring in the crowds at their food hall occupying the basement of their Piccadilly flagship: grab a table, choose your char sui hirata bun or tuna tataki and wait for your buzzer to signal lunch is up.
Back in Europe, Ole and Steen's Danish open sandwiches hit the spot (get the smoked trout on rye) for a quick take-out option. (Their breakfasts are good too, for that matter.) Otherwise, take your pick of the burger bunch from mid-range options like Five Guys (Cajun fries are a must) and Shake Shack (grab yourself a frozen custard) or amp it up a bit at Burger & Lobster, though we've always found it a struggle to shell out £20 for the burger when there's all that fat juicy butter laden lobster on offer instead.
Pubs, gastropubs and bars near Leicester Square
Pubs and bars in the area can be hit or miss, but there is good drinking to be had. The Blue Posts had a revamp a year or two back and now is a three storey pub-cum-bar comprising a smart ground floor pub, a downstairs drinking den and a first floor snug. The pub is where it's really at and is complete with all sorts of craft beer on tap and truly brilliant bar snacks including melting anchovy buttered toasts, Moroccan spiced nuts and must-try sausage rolls.
De Hems offers something different as London’s only authentic Dutch pub; originating in the 19th century and full to the brim with Dutch snacks such as cheese parcels and bitterballen (like a crispy deep fried beefy bonbon), beers and interesting spirits, you feel a bit like you're in Den Haag. We also love the Cork and Bottle, a warm, welcoming wine bar with lots of fabulous wines by the glass, and a good line in fromage and charcuteri we've had hit or miss bar snacks from there but unfailingly good cheese. Grab a snug if you can.
For something swanky, try The Perception Bar at the shimmering, shining W hotel, which is fun at any time of day or night for a completely delicious cocktail in smart, sophisticated surrounds. Their Cookies and Cream cocktails are popular.
Restaurants near Leicester Square
Small plates abound at Mexican slash Peruvian mash up Leicester Square Kitchen which is handily situated on the square itself and is surprisingly and genuinely good, offering all the big names such as ceviche, tacos, tostadas and a sizzling robata grill for very un-Leicester Square prices (about seven per plate) and a pre-theatre offering from £22 too.
Just out of the square, we'd head immediately to The Palomar (these are the guys who revamped The Blue Posts) where you can enjoy Israel-inspired small plates of Josperised octopus, fantastic Tel Aviv style bagels and the silkiest hummus in town along with killer cocktails and a soundtrack that will have you bopping away at the table: pro tip, it's more fun to sit at the bar than at the real tables in the back.
For something more casual, Baozilnn continues to draw in the crowds with its colourfully dyed dim sum, stacks of Sichuan spice and critical acclaim — cheap and cheerful Northern Chinese dishes. All the dumplings are good, obvs, but their ruby prawn dumplings which get their remarkable colour from beetroot dough are almost too pretty to eat.
Special occasion restaurants near Leicester Square
Ready to splash the cash? Rowley’s up towards St James's is a properly old school grill house that has been serving up their famed aged entrecote steak on tabletop grills smothered in melting roquefort sauce and unlimited — yes, unlimited — fries since the 1970s. It's still going extremely strong in the face of local competition from the likes of Hawksmoor and Sophie's Steakhouse.
Speaking of steak, you may be taken aback to hear that the meat at the Heliot Steakhouse comes highly recommended; try your hand at blackjack then celebrate or commiserate with a USDA dry aged T Bone (or any of their other nine cuts of steak) and all the trimmings including foie gras, lobster tail and millionaire's mac'n'cheese.
Post-theatre, there’s nowhere better to be than J. Sheekey where luvvies gather over platters of shellfish and champagne and their utterly perfect fish pie until late: in summer the Atlantic Bar is where you’ll want to be, but it's cosy and convivial inside year round.
Coffee shops and cafes near Leicester Square
In addition to Sheekey’s, New Row plays host to The Espresso Room, which serves Caravan's brilliant espresso blend speciality coffee along with a short and sweet list of brunch and lunch goods to keep hunger at bay.
Nearby, The Cafe in the Crypt at St Martins in the Field offers a self-service option of well-sourced fairtrade coffee, tea and food throughout the day; choose from your generic paninis, pastries and puddings or tuck in to larger plates of affordable stews and home cooked seasonal goods including veggie and GF options, all enjoyed in beautiful, historic surroundings. The all day café at the Picturehouse cinema in Trocadero is unfailingly popular too and serves anything from charcuterie boards to globally-inspired dishes and boasts a licensed bar should you require an organic sancerre to take the edge off.
Late night food and drink near Leicester Square
Opium, the Shanghai themed cocktail and dim sum bar in Chinatown, is unfailingly popular with its inventive, awe-inspiring boozy concoctions in a 1920s setting so stylish it hurts. Try the Tsai, a grown-up bourbon, salted caramel liqueur, popcorn and caramel air affair if the £14.50 price tag doesn't faze you; it's open til 3am on weekends so watch out. The Experimental Cocktail Club down the road in Gerrard Street is another night owl haunt, with exciting mixology going on til the wee hours (it's best to book here).
At Piano Works the live music get rowdier and rowdier with audience participation until 4am kicking out time but guarantees a good time every visit. Hungry? Advance directly to Dumplings' Legend where it's universally agreed that the dim sum delicacies are great at any time of day but especially plump and satisfying late at night (they're open til 3am). Alternatively, Hung's is your go-to for a late night duck and noodle fix — the hotter, the soupier, the better.