What To Do In London: Leicester Square

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Leicester Square comes with an abundance of connotations. It’s well known for being the epicentre of film and theatre in London as well as a sightseeing hotspot that has people flocking in their thousands. We set off to Leicester Square to explore the area and discover all its secrets from a local point of you. We can’t wait to show you what we got up to…

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While Londoners might avoid the Square due to its busy nature, leaving it to the hoards of tourists that descend daily, it can be easy to overlook the unique, luxurious and downright fun experiences that can be had in the area. Forget the obligatory visit to M&M World and the entertaining buskers – we wanted to see what fun can actually be had in Leicester Square, away from all the token novelties.

So, The Idle Man (or Women, in this case), decided to come up with a totally scientific social observation (that’s how we’re justifying our ridiculously fun weekend, anyway) to show you just how vast your Leicester Square options are. We’re talking one night, served two different ways, for two completely different experiences of the same area. Follow our lead, or even mix and match our top pick of activities to find your own Leicester Square – trust us, you’re guaranteed a good time. So, where on earth did we start? (Spoiler: it wasn’t in M&M World.)

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The Pool at Haymarket Hotel
PHOTO CREDIT: Haymarket Hotel

Experience One: Ella

Where We Stayed – Victory House

Anticipating a ridiculously jam-packed day ahead, we thought ahead. Who wants to end the day with an inevitably stress-filled, exhausted, anti-climatic journey home on the tube? Not us. With this in mind, we checked out the best that Leicester Square has to offer, starting with Victory House, London. A chic, boutique hotel right in the heart of the West End, Victory House boasts 86 art deco-inspired rooms and suites. With its rooms’ tonal colour palettes, enviable monochrome bathrooms and contemporary gold accents, at first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking this was just another (undeniably gorgeous) boutique hotel – but as they say, the devil is in the detail.

Taking inspiration from Leicester Square’s iconic history in film, each room in Victory House is dotted with nods to 1950s cinematic glamour: from old school dial phones to a director’s clapperboard, to silent movie projections in every corridor. If you’re a bit of a film fanatic, Victory House also puts on a Reel Deal package, where you’ll receive the full movie star treatment: accommodation, a two-course pre-film dinner at Le Petit Bistro, an array of sweet treats, plus access to the exclusive rooftop members’ bar at Picturehouse Cinema.

It was all too easy to get carried away with our serene surroundings within the hotel, but a quick look out the window and you’re quickly reminded of the neon buzz of the Square below. And I mean, the view is impressive. Endless hours of people watching right there, but who has time for that with an abundance of activities lined up?

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Victory House Hotel Room
PHOTO CREDIT: Victory House

What We Did – Cocktail Masterclass at Leicester Square Kitchen

Let’s kick this bit off with a slight disclaimer: You don’t have to drink to have an amazing weekend, but if you’re after the best things to do in Leicester Square, it helps. First up, we could think of nothing we would rather do on a sunny afternoon in the Square than enjoy a cocktail or two. Drinking in central London can prove a pricey affair, so if you’re already paying for the drink itself, you may as well get your money’s worth and learn to make the cocktail yourself, right? This is where Leicester Square Kitchen came to our aid. One Saturday a month, the bar-come-restaurant puts on a cocktail masterclass, hosted by a couple of ridiculously talented bartenders (massive shout out to Matt and Roberto, who put up with quite a lot of faffing from us).

Showing us how it’s done before letting us come behind the bar to shake things up a bit ourselves (pun intended), we tried our hand at a classic Margarita, Pisco Sour and Lavender Fizz – the last of which was part of a ‘guess the ingredients’ competition, where the winner gets an impressive prize (which unfortunately wasn’t us, after displaying a distinct lack of cocktail-making talent). All this cocktail tasting could definitely leave one tipsy to say the least, but Leicester Square Kitchen has also got this covered. Throughout the masterclass, mouthwatering signature Mexican and Peruvian-inspired canapés are served, each designed to complement the cocktails, with an additional option of a full-on dinner also available afterwards. What more could you want? A certificate to hang on your wall to commemorate your cocktail making achievements, I hear you cry? Sorted. Granted, I may have left mine in the restaurant (I blame the Margarita), but I’m sure my parents would be more proud of it than my degree.

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Cocktail Masterclass at Leicester Square Kitchen
PHOTO CREDIT: Leicester Square Kitchen

Where We Ate – W Hotel

After all that drinking malarkey, we needed something that would fill our peckish stomaches (please read: sober us up) without leaving us regretting ruining our pre-summer diets. With this in mind, we headed to W London – Leicester Square. Perhaps better known for its impressive, neon exterior, W London  is becoming the go-to hotspot for fancy drinking, celeb spotting and up-market dining. Renowned for inviting some of London’s most exciting and innovative culinary talents into its bar and lounge The Perception, the hotel  has recently turned to a dynamic chef, Ravinder Bhogal, to create an impressive all-vegan menu. With neither of us being particularly vegan way inclined, we were slightly sceptical, but the intriguing ingredients, the finesse of presentation and explosion of flavour more than changed our minds

Our personal highlights included the besan fritters with coconut yoghurt (we’re still not quite sure what they are, but they tasted damn good), as well as the cauliflower popcorn with a Thai basil tempura and black vinegar and chilli dip. Quite frankly we didn’t think the humble cauli had it in it to taste so good. Mains wise, the cheela, pumpkin and cashew curry with cabbage thoran and coconut chutney deserves a mention – a lot of words, but essentially a curry in a pancake-thing. Delish. With a huge selection of smaller plates alongside larger mains, we would suggest doing the share-y thing to avoid inevitable food envy, but we can’t rule out last bite squabbles. Where you might be inclined to overlook a pudding, it’s not worth missing out here. The rose, coconut and cardamon doughnuts were like nothing we have tasted before, plus they’re vegan, so that means they’re healthy, right? Whilst you’re at it, get a cocktail. You won’t be sorry.

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The Perception Bar at W Hotel
PHOTO CREDIT: W Hotel

What Else We Did – The Reel Deal Package at Picturehouse Cinema

Hark back to ‘Where We Stayed’ and you’ll remember the Reel Deal package we mentioned. We were lucky enough to try this out, so after a surprisingly decadent dinner, we headed for the Picturehouse Cinema just around the corner from Leicester Square. While a night on the town might be your usual idea of date night, it’s difficult to think of more romantic things to do in Leicester Square than head to the cinema. With so much cinematic history associated with the area, you can’t get much more old school romance – kissing in the rain post-film not guaranteed.

Unfortunately, there was none of that here, as dog flu and conspiracy theories don’t exactly scream romance. We’re of course talking about the highly anticipated The Isle of Dogs by Wes Anderson. Worth all the hype it has received, the stop-motion animation blew us away with breathtaking visuals influenced by the Japanese cinema of Yasujiro Ozu, Seijun Suzuki and, most notably, Akira Kurosawa, combined with the unmistakeable, iconic traits of Wes Anderson’s films. Despite this being an animation, a kid’s film it is not. Expect classic Anderson wit, surprisingly gory touches and above all, impressive cinematic art. Given how enthralled we were with the film, our night out at the cinema would have been perfect as it was, but it was made even more memorable by our pre-show cocktail in the Members’ Lounge. Can you see a theme here? If you’re going to do something, do it properly. Heading back to Victory House to scoff all of the popcorn, biscuits, sweets and bottle of wine left for us, we were very happy campers indeed.

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Picturehouse Cinema
PHOTO CREDIT: Picturehouse Cinema

Overall

This was definitely one for film fanatics and cocktail lovers. I mean, what’s not to love? Leicester Square can seem pretty overwhelming at first glance, but away from all of the hustle and bustle lies a pretty chilled out, alternative and even potentially romantic day out. A cocktail making masterclass at Leicester Square Kitchen is the perfect alternative to your usual day drinking session, making excessive ‘sampling’ totally acceptable, while dinner at W Hotel is the perfect guilt-free remedy to your afternoon sins. Rounded off with a romantic trip to Picturehouse Cinema and you’ve got yourself the perfect combination of things to do around Leicester Square. Just try not to nod off in the cinema.

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Leicester Square Kitchen
PHOTO CREDIT: Leicester Square

Experience Two: Lauren

Where We Stayed – Firmdale Hotels Haymarket Hotel

Imagine you are in a film. This is a film where you are the lead; everything revolves around you. Your personal chauffeur picks you up after an afternoon of leisurely browsing the upper-class stores of Jermyn Street only to pull up at a hotel which exhibits everything that is wonderful, elegant, classy and subtle about London. This is how we felt arriving at the stunning Haymarket Hotel, welcomed by the grand white exterior of the hotel’s front, embellished with a proud Union Jack flag that shouts “This is London, and this is what we’re about”.

The Haymarket Hotel – part of the Firmdale Hotels – is located in the back streets of Leicester Square, tucked away on Suffolk Place, surrounded by the neighbouring white buildings which make the exterior of the hotel so beautiful. The tall external pillars, the landmark flag and the picturesque (and very Instagram-able) black iron gates create an upper-class and stylish edge to the hotel. The interior doesn’t fall short of spectacular, either. The lobby has a minimal aesthetic to it; the room is spacious with a juxtaposition of carefully selected antique and modern furniture. The walls are decorated with curated art, including a landscape by John Virtue. The art continues with a celebration of Tony Cragg as his original eye-catching sculpture stands its ground to greet the guests.

All of the rooms in the Haymarket Hotel have been designed by Kit Kemp, the design director for Firmdale Hotels. She encompasses quintessentially British design in all of her work, running the theme throughout the vast hotel. Each of the hotel’s 50 rooms are also designed by Kemp, all of which are kitted out with Wifi, a flatscreen TV and an iPod docking station. From the double rooms to the suits, these bedrooms are unlike the ordinary; the beauty is in the detail, the colours and the vibrant atmosphere that each room releases. We were lucky enough to stay in a Deluxe Junior Suite – a suite that, by any standard, was breathtaking. We are unsure which feature of the suite we could pinpoint as our favourite. Perhaps the king sized bed that, quite frankly, made us sleep like royalty. Or perhaps it was the balcony overlooking Haymarket Road with another Union Jack flag waving in our view (and how British we felt). Or, it could have quite possibly been the enormous marble bathroom, equipped with two sinks, a shower and a bath which had its own flat screen TV built into the wall – amazing.

The Haymarket Hotel has the most dramatic pool we have ever seen. It’s 55 ft long and set in a show of lights installed by Martin Richman. This pool is like something you would expect in a mansion in Vegas: Set with a poolside bar, a huge TV and leather chairs, we could see many a pool party occurring. The Hotel also has a private function room, a library, a gym, a spa, a terrace and a restaurant. If you’re looking for a London hotel that you can treat as a mere pit stop, this isn’t it.

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The Haymarket Hotel Lobby
PHOTO CREDIT: Haymarket Hotel

What We Did – The Japan Centre

The Japan Centre, situated on Panton Street (conveniently just around the corner from the Haymarket Hotel) was our next destination. Unsure of what to expect from this landmark and tourist-attracting locale, we were pleasantly surprised at the vast extent of what they had to offer in the establishment. Greeted with a tour, we were shown around the flagship store, exploring the different Japanese foods, drinks and tools which are 100% authentic and 100% mesmerising. It’s as if we were transported straight into Japan, surrounded by the culture and mouthwatering smells coming from the restaurant that lies within the carefully departmentalised store.

This traditional hub allows for city-explorers to slip off the conventional streets of Leicester Square and fall, unmistakably, into the rooted walls of the Japan Centre. We ate there; it was incredible. The open kitchen releases fumes of authentic cuisine into the store, preparing the many customers to sit and dine as part of the experience. We had a plethora of Japanese specialities, including matcha green tea and cocktails (another Instagram opportunity), octopus dishes, noodle dishes and chicken dishes. It’s fair to say that we left the Japan Centre with full hearts and even fuller stomaches – a satisfaction like no other.

If you’re looking for some original fun things to do in Leicester Square, London, head over to the Japan Centre to immerse your senses.

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The Japan Centre Store
PHOTO CREDIT: The Japan Centre

Where We Ventured – Jermyn Street 

We spent our afternoon leisurely perusing the historical Jermyn Street, filled with fashion locations that hold a sense of prestige in the high-quality stores that line it. The history of Jermyn Street dates back to 1664 when Charles II instructed Henry Jermyn to develop a destination in close proximity to St James’s Palace. Because of this, everything you see on Jermyn Street holds that British artistry that we all love so much (and can’t seem to get enough of).

On Jermyn Street, you’ll find shops, hotels, restaurant and services that take you through history with each of their own establishments. Head to Floris for your grooming essentials; pop to T.M Lewin or Benson & Clegg for your tailoring and gentleman accessories or mooch down to Ginza Onodera for some light snacks or even a dinner. Fortnum & Mason is a classic London stop for many locals and tourists alike, so be sure to make your way here for everything tea, hampers and delicious confectionery.

You could spend hours wandering around these shops. There is so much to appreciate, especially if you don’t often go to London. It doesn’t get more British gent than this, so you’d be mad to miss out on all of the Jermyn Street offerings.

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The Shops On Jermyn Street
PHOTO CREDIT: Haute Vitrine

Where We Ate – Duck and Waffle Local

After our Jermyn Street adventures, we made our way to Duck and Waffle Local. We’ve all heard of this new food trend of duck and, well, waffle, but have any of you actually gone and tried it for yourselves? We must admit, we were sceptical; how can you possibly have duck, a waffle and syrup in the same dish? Nonetheless, we can safely say we will be going back for more. Much more.

How can you not be happy when you have a bowl of duck fat fries and a glass of prosecco sat in front of you? The idea of that alone not being satisfying enough is completely alien to us. Duck and Waffle Local is a ‘fast casual restaurant’ that brings together the ideas of high-quality food in an easily accessible location. People can book, walk-in or even ‘waddle’ their food away. Whichever method you’d rather, we wouldn’t suggest you go anywhere else to do it.

The interior of Duck and Waffle Local is vibrant, modern and clean. Just because they describe themselves as ‘fast’, their standards would never dare slip. Breaking this stigma, we were sat down and approached with a glass of prosecco, followed by greetings by friendly staff who were more than happy to show us our way around the menus, recommending the best dishes. Being the newbies we were, we followed suit and picked a selection of the dishes to share. We started with the crispy polenta bites followed by a healthy serving of salt and pepper squid. If you’re feeling more adventurous, opt for the duck jam doughnut – a classic example of how Duck and Waffle like to innovate their quality cuisine. We followed this with the wonderful duck and waffle main, a must-have if (or when) you come here. The dish comes with a confit duck egg on top of a perfectly delicious waffle, coated in a fried ducks egg with a side of mustard maple syrup. It is here that I realise I may have a career as the voiceover in Masterchef.

For dessert, we indulged on one of their hot waffle or cone options. Naturally, we went for the caramelised banana choice, however, we were well informed that every option is a winner. Overall, Duck and Waffle Local received a big yes from us. Once again, we walked out with happy hearts and happier stomaches. Or should I say, we ‘waddled’ out?

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Duck and Waffle Local Restaurant
PHOTO CREDIT: Duck and Waffle Local

What Else We Did – A Comedy About a Bank Robbery at The Criterion Theatre

You really can’t spend an evening in Leicester Square without going to the theatre. There’s simply so much going on and with so much to see – Leicester Square really is your oyster. With all options, theatres and shows at our fingertips, we had to narrow it down to just one to supply us with an evening of pure, dazzling entertainment. We fancied something that would make us laugh so much that maybe, just maybe, we could burn off the accesses of food we at the Japan Centre and Duck and Waffle Local. When it came to watching a comedy, there seemed to be one obvious option: A Comedy About a Bank Robbery showing at The Criterion Theatre.

Going to the theatre is certainly one of the cool things to do when in Leicester Square, but if you go to see this show, it’s guaranteed to be one of the funniest things, too. A Comedy About a Bank Robbery is a Mischief Theatre production and a great one at that. This show is fast, witty and uncontrollably funny, resulting in the audience being in fits of laughter throughout (including us). This is the kind of funny where even the actors break character at times, only adding to the joy of the experience.

Like every good play, A Comedy About a Bank Robbery follows a well-written story filled with twists and surprised. It has dancing, singing and some really impressive, innovative set designs. The Criterion Theatre is a stunning theatre, perfect for holding intimate plays such as this. If you want to finish off a day in Leicester Square in the best possible way, this is where you need to go.

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A Comedy About a Bank Robbery at The Criterion Theatre
PHOTO CREDIT: Fiveprime

Overall

It doesn’t really matter what you’re into, you’re never going to be short of choice when you go to Leicester Square. A stunning hotel in an idyllic location makes for the perfect base for a weekend trip away. The Japan Centre is just around the corner, offering a whole load of exciting product that will leave you feeling full and cultured. Jermyn Street offers a touch of R&R away from the main roads; the perfect opportunity to wander into some of the most traditional men’s stores in London which pack a whole load of heritage. Duck and Waffle Local is only a short waddle away, surprising you with its creative menu and beyond delicious foods, and the vast array of theatre options await for the end of the day.

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