Bar review: Bibis Italianissimo, Criterion Place, Leeds

Bibis Italianissimo, Leeds
Bibis Italianissimo, Leeds
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After 40 years in business, the lights still shine bright in the timewarped ‘Italianissimo’ that is Bibis.

The glitterball glamour of the Leeds stalwart seems is still going strong 40 years on.

Bibis Italianissimo, Leeds.

Bibis Italianissimo, Leeds.

Finely presented staff in tuxedos welcome you inside this mosaic glass-walled hall of mirrors, which to this day delivers the type of unusual extravagance you don’t quite expect to find beside the dingy dark arch that until recently housed The Cockpit.

From the outside it has all the hallmarks of the extrovert cabaret bar it is come Wednesdays and Sundays, with its Vegas-inspired showstopper lighting and illuminated Bibis logo.

Despite the logo faltering as we walk in – looking more like ‘ibi’ – this unusual stylistic bar still promises much.

Walking through the grand ice cube mosaic glass entrance we were ushered to the bar by the suited smiling staff with the buzz of the restaurant side of the venue in our ears.

Hung glasses act like a thick chandelier halo above the gleaming black island bar.

It’s a gloriously over-the-top tiered area featuring painstakingly polished tiles underfoot, faux crocodile skin clad red and black leather chairs and black and part-mirrored columns dividing sections of a buttoned red material banquette that borders the bar. The metallic chandeliers above and mosaic glass walls combine to create an impressive, if not slightly overbearing, sense of extravagance.

With all this glitzy decor in mind, I have to say the venue’s unusual soundtrack of everything from non-descript hotel lobby-style music to the Lion King soundtrack and Frank Sinatra left us a little confused.

They offer some pleasing Italian-inspired drinks including aperitivo and digestivo cocktails, Italian draught Birra Moretti, bottled Peroni beer and even Montano Italian cider which we’ve scarcely seen in Leeds before.

Cocktails are certainly the main focus, with around 50 mixes to choose from, priced between around £6.50 and £9.50, including twists on classics. You can also choose from four draught beers, eight bottled beers and ciders, an impressive selection of around 50 wines and an endless supply of varied spirits.

We went for a couple of the cocktails, with a smooth rum and apricot brandy Mai Tai and a mixed rum, Cointreau and pineapple Bibis Grog. Both were well presented and proved quite strong yet flavoursome mixes - the Bibis Grog in particular had a soft fruity aftertaste following the strength of the mixed spirits. The bill came to £15 – by no means cheap – but, given the surroundings, felt right.

Overall Bibis’ exuberant style seems a little out of place considering its location and it being down the road from the takeaways and pubs around Mill Hill, which in all fairness has had some positive investment in the form of The Griffin and Bundobust of late.

But nevertheless Bibis, along with the celebrated adjacent Chaophraya restaurant, finds itself in no man’s land between the bars of Call Lane, Lower Briggate and the ever-changing Mill Hill.

It’s an enormous venue with an unrivalled niche in styling and feel – some may love it and some may hate it, but everyone in Leeds should at least give Bibis a try once.

To have survived Leeds’s evolving food and drink scene for four decades, this city stalwart is a vibrant and unusual mix and its potential as a cocktail bar is not quite as appreciated as it should be.

The Commercial.

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