London! It’s one of the great world capitals for food, art, fashion, and culture. It’s also the only other place besides New York and Denver that I’ve ever lived (for a couple of months while studying abroad in college)! As you can imagine, I was excited when I found out I’d be returning to my old stomping grounds as part of a work trip.
Most of my time during the week was spent tending to work obligations, but I was able to tack on a few days at the end of my trip so I could spend the weekend eating and exploring – which apparently is called bleisure travel.
Here are my recommendations for the best cool restaurants for foodies near Leicester Square in London, UK. My company put me up in a hotel right off Leicester Square, which is definitely touristy, but I found very convenient to being able to see shows (like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) on the West End at night.
The location is also within walking distance of hip neighborhoods like Soho, Convent Garden, and Bloomsbury and world class cultural institutions like the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Tate. There are also several Tube stations in the vicinity which makes it easy to go a little further afield to places like the artsy and eclectic area known as Shoreditch.
But now onto the food!
Recommended for: A healthy, yet comforting meal after a long flight.
I had just made it to my hotel in central London, completely exhausted, slightly disoriented, and ravenously hungry. It was lunchtime, even though my body still thought it was morning, so I decided to hunt for something light and healthy to eat that was within walking distance. After some internet sleuthing, I found Mildreds in the neighboring area of Soho.
Upon walking in I was confused as to what exactly was going on. People were queued up to the left, and after a few moments of silently studying everyone’s movements, I determined they were there for the quick carry out station. I suppose I could have just asked someone what was going on, but whenever I’m in a foreign country where the native language is English, I feel painfully aware of my American accent and have a decent amount of dread whenever I have to speak.
I pressed on past the crowd and found a team member and shyly asked if I could be seated for lunch. I was promptly escorted to the cheery dining room at the back of the building, made all the more pleasant by the sun streaming in from the skylights overhead and the vernal green banquets and white modernist chair seating.
This girl loves a fresh juice so I ordered the Green Machine (£4.5) to start, a snappy beverage made of pressed spinach, celery, cucumber, and apple. Served with a long metal cocktail stirrer, I intermittently agitated the fresh pulp that settled at the bottom of the glass in between sips.
For my entree I ordered the Chicken Katsu Curry (£13) an incredibly tasty panko coconut crumbed mock chicken breast served on a bed of black rice, with a side of watermelon radish salad with yuzu dressing.
As I sat and ate I noticed a number of Mildreds cookbooks lining the shelf above one of my fellow diner’s head which tipped me off to the fact that this place might be kinda famous (or at least beloved enough to warrant someone writing several cookbooks bearing their name).
It was only later when researching the place that I discovered that Mildreds is a landmark vegetarian institution in London, opening its first restaurant in 1988 when Soho was still primarily known as a seedy red light district (12 years later moving into the larger space it currently occupies), and has since grown into a mini-empire with two other locations in town.
It’s also a vegan mecca, due to the fact that almost 90% off the menu items can accommodate those who abstain from eating any animal products and everything is lip-smacking delicious.
Lanzhou Noodle Bar
Recommended for: Late night eats after taking in a show on the West End
I loved this place so much I ate here two nights in a row during my stay. After one tasting of the delicious hand-pulled noodles at Lanzhou Noodle Bar, I developed an insatiable craving for more.
Right when you walk in there is a spot to the right of the door where you can do a quick carry out by selecting from a buffet of pre-made food in chaffing dishes which looked like generic Chinese take out. Do not fall for this! You are here for the FRESH NOODLES. Keep walking further into the restaurant and ask to be seated for a dine in experience.
The seating area is limited, but there are a two tables at the back that can seat six people each. If you are a solo eater like I was, you’ll probably be seated at one of the three stools directly across from the kitchen towards the front of the restaurant.
There a strictly no-nonsense vibe to this entire place. You are there to simply order your food, get served, eat, pay and get out with as much efficiency as possible, thank you very much.
First- (and even second-) timers will be completely confused by the enormous and vague menu. Dishes are listed by their main ingredient with no supporting description to be found and you’ll basically be left to your own devices to figure out what is what until a waiter abruptly arrives to joylessly asks you what you want to order. Keep persevering, my dear friend.
Let me break it down for you by explaining what you should be looking for:
In the noodles section there are two columns, one for “La-Mian” (hand-pulled noodles, which are a spaghetti-type shape, long and thin, which are the ones I recommend) and one for “Dao Xio Mian” (knife-cut noodles, which are a wide and flat like the types you usually get in a Chow Fun), both with soup, dry, or fried options for many of the dishes. For the La Mian dishes, you also have the option of getting them very thin, thin, regular, thick, or flat.
The first night I went I was pretty confused by the menu and I was frantically scrolling through Yelp to figure out what was the right combination of stuff I should be ordering, but I ended up getting the Stewed Beef La Mian Soup (£6.50), which did not come with a choice of noodle thickness.
The noodles were excellent and I loved the soup and the baby bok choy, but the stewed beef was a little too much for me.
The next night after seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I was super hungry and was craving noodles again so I decided to head back. This time I went with a different combo, ordering the Minced Beef La Mian (regular cut) dry (£6.50).
This was the dish I was waiting for! The mince beef was smothered in some kind of magically flavored sauce, and I swirled the noodles into it, coating each bite. It was kinda like the Chinese version of spaghetti with meat sauce. Again, the noodles were delicious and I loved the bursts of bright flavor that the chopped up greens provided.
Wow wow wow. Heaven on a plate! Minced Beef La Mian for LIFE!
Recommended for: A beautiful, leisurely breakfast
On my last day in London, I had the morning free to get some breakfast and hit the National Portrait Gallery before I would need to leave for the airport to start my journey back to the US.
The night before I did some furious searching for a memorable place to have my last meal in England. The online reservation system for Sketch only allows you to book tables for two people or more and since my time the next day would be limited, I didn’t want to take any risk of showing up and being turned away.
However I did find that another spot I had been eying, Dalloway Terrace at the Bloomsbury Hotel did have the ability to book for one person, so I happily made a reservation for the earliest time available, 8am. Even though that meant I probably was not going to get much sleep, what it did mean was I would be among one of the first people to arrive at the restaurant, and giving me an excellent opportunity to get shots of the beautiful space.
Dalloway Terrace is know for their exuberant seasonal flower and plant wall that takes up the entire back wall, making for the ultimate Instagram shot. (For those who have allergies, you’re in luck, the flowers and plants might look real in photos, but they are actually fake, so no worries!) It’s become such a popular spot to take photos that their website now lists some pretty specific photography policies when visiting the restaurant that you must abide by!
This is why booking the earliest time available is kinda genius – most of the tables are empty when you arrive so you’re not bothering people by taking selfies or shots of your food.
Speaking of the food – I definitely ordered way too much. It turned out that the Express Breakfast (£13), with an assortment of four fresh baked pastries, two full bowls (one with fruit, one with fruit and yogurt), and tea was more than enough food on its own.
After I’d already sufficiently stuffed my face full of said pastries and yogurt, I tried to make a dent in the Rainbow Acai Bowl (£9) I had also ordered. The bowl, which was lined with picture perfect rows of berries, fruits, and nuts was a really appetizing healthy breakfast option, and I loved the few bites of it I had.
Once my meal was over, I took the time to explore the rest of the public spaces of the Bloomsbury Hotel, which were virtually empty on a Sunday morning.
The Coral Room bar is a inspired space bathed in warm pinks. The bar and the reception lounge, both designed by Martin Brudnizki Design Studio will forever be some of my favorite interior designs. Each space bursts with color, quirky whimsy, and elegance without any hint of artifice. You feel super fancy but also cozy and comfortable at the same time. What amazing spaces! Brudnizki is an absolute master mixer of color, pattern, and textures.
I sat for some time by the fireplace in the reception lounge to warm up before heading back out and it was some of the most relaxing and enjoyable moments of my entire trip. Definitely recommended.
Map of the Best Eats Near Leicester Square in London, UK
Wondering where all these places are? Check out this handy-dandy map below that plots out all of the mentioned spots near Leicester Square:
If you’re interested in more of my tips for where to eat in world capitals – check out my list of affordable places to eat in NYC’s LES and Chinatown and Times Square in New York City.