Stephen Bull 12 Upper St Martin's Lane, WC2 (0171-379 7811). Mon-Fri lunch and dinner, Sat dinner. This is a refreshingly understated - or, looked at another way, austere - restaurant to find in the West End but Bull's brand of modern British cooking has always kept the faith and recently made a commitment to interesting vegetarian alternatives, too. Prices are what you'd expect in the West End, except on the pre- and post-theatre menu. This has starters (deep-fried squid and peanut sauce) and desserts (prune and date tart, orange confit and ice-cream) for pounds 5.50 and mains (plaice with butter beans and chorizo, calf's liver) for pounds 10. A starter and dessert is only pounds 10; main course with either a starter or dessert is pounds 13.50, with around half-a-dozen choices for each course. This deal applies from 5.45pm to 7pm and 10.30pm to 11.30pm, making it somewhere to make a beeline for after the applause has died down.

Livebait 41-45 The Cut, SE1 (0171-928 7211). Mon-Sat lunch and dinner. Well placed for the South Bank and even better for the Old and Young Vics, this fish restaurant is informal enough to suit all ages, with booth seating and tiled walls that could have been designed for families nervous about damage to the furnishings. It's fish cooking at its most modish and elaborate - think millefeuille of seared bluefin tuna, baba ganoush, red onion jam and baby spinach, rather than haddock and chips, but children can be served something more like the latter (though not necessarily in batter), if you ask. Fabulous flavoured and accordingly coloured breads - beetroot or turmeric, for example - and puddings are further attractions. A pre- and post-theatre menu at pounds 15.50 for two courses (not including service) offers two choices at each stage and is served from 5.30pm to 7pm, and 10pm to 11.15pm.

Mangall II 4 Stoke Newington Road, N16 (0171-254 7888). Lunch and dinner daily. When Ralph Fiennes was Hamlet in Hackney, his followers from west , who'd never dreamt of going east of the Balls Pond Road before, couldn't think where to have dinner after the play.

I directed them to Dalston, just too far to walk, but where the Turkish restaurants stay open late. Mangal II is the most spacious and comfortable of them all and will serve the same purpose for those on their way to or from Dick Whittington at the Hackney Empire. Pick and mix from Turkish meze and thrill to the grills - pieces of lamb cooked over charcoal - all for little more than pounds 10 a head. Children are welcome, and it's open until 1am.


Shimla Pinks 215 Broad Street, Birmingham (0121-633 0366). Lunch and dinner daily. Chains such as Cafe Rouge, All Bar One and everyone's favourite, Pizza Express, are represented close by the canal at Brindley Place. For a more typically Birmingham big night out, this showcase Indian restaurant is just over the road from the Rep (where A Christmas Carol is on). Dinner from 6pm to 11pm allows eating before or after. There's a pounds 14.95 per person set-menu, or spend pounds 18 to pounds 20 a head on Pakistani karahis (better known as baltis round here) and the rest of the sub-continent's roster of top dishes. The setting is spacious.


West Yorkshire Playhouse Playhouse Sqaure, Quarry Hill, Leeds (0113 2137800). Mon-Sat 8.30am-8pm. With the thoroughly revised version of the musical Martin Guerre hoping to reverse its reception, they're pulling out the stops at the Playhouse with a French menu in the busy restaurant which, with the bar, occupies the first floor. Normally self-service, for pounds 12.50 you can have three themed courses served to you before the show. Starters are bouillabaisse, pate or salad; mains are cassoulet, fish en papillote or asparagus, and there's French cheese, apple charlotte or pears in brandy afterwards. Otherwise, those going to the Nutcracker at the Courtyard Theatre can have dishes such as salmon in spinach sauce, vegetable chilli or chicken en croute. For those whom want to eat afterwards, Pizza Express, White Cloth Hall, Crown Street, Leeds (0113 2465207), takes last orders every night 11.45pm; Expect to pay pounds 10 to pounds 18.


Watermill Theatre Bagnor, Newbury, Berks (01635 47025). Lunch, tea and dinner according to performance times. The restaurant at the Watermill Theatre is part of the attraction of this captivating set-up. The Wizard of Oz is this year's Christmas show, and lunch and early dinners are served before matinee and evening performances. Lunch is under pounds 10 for a main course with salad or a baked potato, dinner is pounds 15 for two courses before shows, or pounds 17.95 for three courses afterwards. This classy menu includes Tuscan white bean soup or chicken and smoked duck terrine, pot roast pheasant or halibut with tomato, ginger and basil salsa as well as trad Christmas dishes. After matinees there are also teas for pounds 3.95 with children's cakes decorated with Wizard of Oz characters. Caroline Stacey