Leicester Square. To some, the pulsating heart of London’s West End and a hub of kinetic energy that attracts over 2.5 million visitors each week. To others, a curiously busy but barren wasteland of subpar steakhouses and American candy stores…
Either way, when alighting hungry in this most bustling of Central London locations, you needn’t settle on a flabby fillet or contribute to money washing with a round of Milk Duds. Instead, here’s our guide on where to eat close to Leicester Square.
Serving up spanking, squeaky fresh seafood for over a century, J. Sheekey is one of the most prestigious purveyors of the good stuff in the city. It’s also one of the best restaurants close to Leicester Square.
Established in 1896, J. Sheekey owes its inception to a unique historical event. The then Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, granted permission to a local stallholder named Josef Sheekey to serve oysters in St Martin’s Court. The only condition was that he catered for Salisbury’s post-theatre supper parties. Thus, the beloved Sheekey’s was born.
Today, J. Sheekey continues to uphold its reputation as one of the best restaurants near Leicester Square. Though there is a vegetarian and vegan menu and a couple of cursory meat dishes on the a la carte, Sheekey’s is still all about the seafood, offering the freshest fish, shellfish and oysters in London.
The restaurant’s central crustacean bar is a highlight, and the walls adorned with framed photographs of famous faces add to its timeless charm. And though those celebrity endorsements and general sense of prestige do certainly lend themselves to a hefty bill, the J. Sheekey set menu is great value for Central London – here, it’s three courses for £39, running Sunday to Friday, midday to 4pm.
Though the immediate surrounds of Leicester Square are visibly dominated by the stark white lights of a dozen chain restaurants, tightly nestled beneath street level is one of Soho’s most exciting independent dining destinations; Evelyn’s Table.
This Michelin-starred chef’s table experience is a genuine hidden gem. Tucked away in the basement of The Blue Posts pub on the edge of London’s Chinatown, Evelyn’s table has been through several iterations in its six year life. It was first opened in 2017 by the team behind popular hotspots The Palomar and The Barbary. After a brief closure, it reopened in 2020 with a brand new team, featuring Luke Selby as head chef, with his two brothers Nat and Theo also on the stoves, which, incidentally, are on full display to the 12-person counter seater restaurant.
The intimate, family affair vibes quickly earned plaudits, with the team picking up a Michelin star in 2022. Though the Selby brothers have now moved on, Evelyn’s Table continues to fire on all cylinders, with chef James Goodyear (formerly of Mugaritz, Hide and Maemo) now heading up the kitchen.
There’s a real elegance to the dishes on show on the 5-dishes plus, £120-a-head tasting menu here, with Goodyear’s precise, Scandinavian and Japanese inspired technique bringing out the best in dayboat Cornish turbot, figs at the height of their season and autumn’s finest foraged mushrooms. It’s a very special place, indeed.
Address: 28 Rupert St, London W1D 6DJ
Shoryu is owned by noodz-entrepreneur (and CEO of the Japan Centre) Tak Tokumine, a native of Fukuoka city who is dedicated to promoting his hometown’s cherished local speciality, ramen, across the globe.
We’re so glad that he’s made it his noble mission, as the restaurant’s signature dish – shoryu ganso tonkotsu, a rich and meaty ramen that boasts a 12-hour simmered broth, homemade Cotswold flour hosomen noodles, succulent char siu barbecue pork, Burford Brown nitamago egg, and an army’s arsenal-worth of vegetable toppings, from pickles to freshly shredded stuff – is as good as it gets.
The kotteri hakata tonkotsu, a heavy, fatty, meaty noodle broth, is another popular choice among patrons and, to us, is one of London’s finest hangover cures. The fact that it pairs so beautifully with a super frothy Kirin Nama draft certainly does no harm in dusting off last night’s excesses.
Finally, you don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian to be enamoured with their plant-based spicy goma tan tan. It comes with an umami rich tonyu soy milk, sesame and miso broth, and is topped with soya mince marinated in garlic and chiu chow chilli oil, crunchy beansprouts, pak choi, and extra chilli oil for a decent kick. Woof.
Pho & Bun
A Shaftesbury Avenue stalwart that sits equidistant between Chinatown and Soho, Pho & Bun offers a taste of Vietnam in the heart of London, all via the mind of chef Andy Le.
The star of the show at Pho & Bun is undoubtedly their traditional Vietnamese pho, a dish that, at its best, can be both transformative and transportative – quite the blessing after negotiating Leicester Square in the pissing rain.
The pho is light and nourishing, boasting a clear, flavoursome broth that carries the pleasant richness of beef bones. It’s served following traditional Vietnamese etiquette, which dictates that it should be eaten using only chopsticks and a simple metal spoon (not that absurdly sized ladle from a certain highstreet pho slinger).
In addition to the glorious national dish, the restaurant also serves a range of bun dishes, the slimmer, gently fermented noodle that is almost as popular on the streets of Hanoi, Hue, Ho Chi Minh City and beyond as pho. Go for the spicy, funky bun bo Hue, umami rich from shrimp paste and given succour and savour by bone marrow. If that doesn’t lift you out of your sense of Central London-spawned malaised, then you probably can’t be saved.
Finally, a firm favourite on the menu at Pho & Bun is are their signature steamed bao burgers stamped with a lotus flower, Vietnam’s national flower which symbolises purity. ‘Authentic’ these bao/burger hybrids ain’t; authentically delicious they most certainly are. Indeed, they are quite simply addictive and something you’ll come to crave long after trying.
Address: 76 Shaftesbury Ave, London W1D 6ND
Bacone Covent Garden
Bancone Covent Garden, founded in 2018 by Will Ellner and his business partner David Ramsay (no relation to…), is one of the best fresh pasta joints in this part of town. In fact, in a city where that particular type of restaurant has become increasingly ubiquitous and uninspiring, Bacone stands out as being, well, actually good at pasta.
Here, it’s handmade every day, and that springy, sprightly essence is perhaps best realised in the least adorned pastas, like the insanely comforting silk handkerchiefs with walnut butter and a confit egg york, or the spaghetti alla chittara (a slightly squared off version of your usual strands hailing from the Abruzzo region) which is dressed in nothing more than a little chilli, garlic and parsley. It’s fucking fabulous. For something a little more fulsome and equally as comforting, Bancone’s tortellini in brodo never misses the mark.
The restaurant operates on a first-come, first-served basis, welcoming walk-ins with open arms. However, they do not guarantee specific tables or times, adding to the spontaneous/frustrating nature of the dining experience. If you do need to wait a while, then there’s plenty of streetside entertainment and shopping options in Covent Garden to keep you occupied.
Bancone Covent Garden has been recognised in the so-called Little Red Book for its light, fresh food, earning a Michelin Bib Gourmand award in 2023. There are now two more outposts, in Soho’s Golden Square and Borough Yards, just off Borough Market.
Address: 39 William IV St, London WC2N 4DD
Brasserie Zedel, located in the heart of Piccadilly, is a grand Parisian brasserie that brings with it authentic Art Deco interiors and obscenely reasonable, humble French fare.
Hidden beneath the laid back Parisian-style ZL Café, providing a sense of discovery and exclusivity to its patrons, the establishment has a rich history, originally serving as the basement of the Regent Palace Hotel, and in the 1980s and 90s, it was known as the Atlantic Bar and Grill. The art deco and beaux arts fittings have been meticulously refurbished, with details recreated according to archived original drawings, preserving the historical charm of the place.
The restaurant serves traditional French food at exceptional value, with an expansive, inclusive space to match, making it a hugely popular choice among locals and tourists alike.
The menu is almost as expansive as the space, but most are here for the prix-fixe option which, at £19.75 for three thoroughly generous courses, has got to be the best value meal in Central London. Currently on, a leek and potato vichyssoise soup, a brasserie-ever-present steak haché with fries and peppercorn sauce, and a chocolate and caramel tart, is a trio of satisfying dishes that simply shouldn’t be giving you change from a 20 pound note. Throw in a large glass of house red for £7 and you really are laughing here.
Address: 20 Sherwood St, London W1F 7ED
Kricket was founded in 2015 by university friends Will Bowlby and Rik Campbell, with the duo starting their culinary journey in a basic 20-seater shipping container at Pop Brixton. Today, Kricket has expanded to three permanent locations in Brixton, Soho, and White City, with plans to grow further in London and internationally.
The Soho branch is particularly convenient for those visiting Leicester Square, as it’s just a 200 metre walk away. It’s also one of our favourite places to eat near Leicester Square, undoubtedly.
Almost ten years ago, Kricket’s proposition felt kinda unique; a combination of British ingredients with the flavours, aromas and cooking tekkers of India. Now, it’s an idea that permeates the menu of just about every non-European restaurant that is – or could be – on the JKS roster, but back then it felt quite novel.
The restaurant features a theatre kitchen, counter seating, and long sharing tables, making it an ideal spot for group dining in Central London. Bowlby, who once cooked European food for the locals in Mumbai, returned to the UK to cook Indian food for Londoners, and his innovative approach to Indian cuisine, combined with Rik Campbell’s business acumen, has made Kricket a major hit.
We’re addicted to their crispy and salty samphire pakoras, which are topped with a sticky date and tamarind chutney and served with a heady chilli garlic mayonnaise for dunking. Perhaps even better is the cuttlefish and Goan sausage ragu, boasting serious depth and funk, with both dishes exemplifying the kind of East-meets-West stylings that have lent such success to Kricket.
Do not miss out, either, on the predictably dubbed but undeniably delicious KFC (Keralan fried chicken), whose curry leaf mayonnaise and deep fried curry leaf garnish really does take things up several notches. This is beer food, make no mistake, and the Harbour Brewing Co’s Session IPA is always on the taps. Well, it would be rude not to, don’t you think?
Address: 12 Denman St, London W1D 7HJ
Good Friend Chicken
Good Friend Chicken is not your typical fried chicken joint. This Chinatown chicken shop prides itself on serving Taiwanese-style fried chicken, with their commitment to authenticity evident in every aspect of its operation. In fact, Good Friend even shipped their oven all the way from Taiwan to ensure the food is prepared as it would be in the night markets of Taipei.
Their menu, though concise, is packed with golden, crispy delights. The chicken breast is skillfully sliced thin and marinated masterfully before being tossed in three different flours to create an unforgettable crispness. Their popcorn chicken, another must-try item on the menu, disappears so fast that it’s wise to order several bags.
But it’s the options for customisation that keeps the customers being reeled in. Once served, you have the option to douse your chicken with any one (or all) of seven different powders, adding the risk of flavour overload, admittedly, but also a real sense of jeopardy that makes every bite all the more exciting. The plum powder, in particular, comes highly recommended.
And speaking of coming highly recommended, we’ve included Good Friend on our round-up of the best fried chicken in London. Do check out that guide when you get a minute.
Though the Food House feels like a Chinatown institution, with dusty carpets, dimly lit booths and properly brilliant, spice-centric regional Chinese dishes, the broadly Sichuan restaurant hasn’t actually been standing proudly on this Gerard Street spot for as long as you’d think. Previously found on Charing Cross Road, Food House moved more into the heart of Chinatown during the area’s recent redevelopment, and has quickly become the must-eat restaurant here. Indeed, it recently further entered the wider public consciousness after being positively reviewed in the Observer last year.
It was a review that was very much deserved, the restaurant’s chilli oil slicked noodle dishes and whole fish dishes – again, dappled with rust coloured droplets that promise plenty of brow mopping – delivering big on flavour and a sense of satisfaction felt deep in your stomach.
For a quick, efficient lunch, the chilli oil (there it is again) lamb noodles is the type of one-bowl-wonder that knocks your socks off and leaves you regretting every single Sainos meal deal that came before it.
Address: 46 Gerrard St, London W1D 5QH
Somehow still hungry, we’re advancing up Wardour Street next, in search of the very best restaurants in Soho. Care to join us?