IT’S been a long time since Oliver set foot in Bibis.
Despite it being a Leeds institution, somehow over the years it must have slipped my mind.
With a whole host of exciting new restaurant offerings and openings across the city in recent years, Bibis, which has now been in Leeds for 40 years, fell by the wayside.
So it was a blast from the past as I walked back under the huge, beaming bulbs outside, which spell out the Bibis name.
Deep down I was nervous to find out whether they’d managed to keep up with their contemporaries.
Four decades is a long time for a restaurant to survive – had time finally taken its toll?
In its 40 years, Bibis has moved three times – from Mill Hill to Greek Street and finally to Criterion Place in 2004.
Entering the enormous venue, which reportedly had a £3.5m facelift when it was bought 10 years ago, it seemed perhaps I was the only one who had forgotten about it.
The restaurant was absolutely buzzing, packed to the rafters with table after table of diners – from the odd hen party to couples and families.
A friendly member of staff greeted us and said it would be a 15-minute wait for the table, and handed us one of those pager/buzzer-type things.
It was a reasonable wait, we both agreed, considering it was peak time on a Saturday night.
We took a seat at the art deco bar where a talented barman whipped us up a couple of cocktails while we soaked up the glitz and glamour.
There’s an extensive cocktail list, offering everything from sparkling to whiskey-based cocktails, and long and short drinks, from £7.50 to £8.50.
I went for the pink grapefruit and almond fizz, and my companion chose a sloe gin sling, both priced at £7.50.
They went down a storm and before we had a chance to get too deep in discussion, the buzzer went off and we were shown to our table.
As we walked through the huge restaurant, the sea of tables all looked taken, with not a spare chair in sight.
But the waiter made a beeline for the stage, where there are normally bands and tribute acts performing on Wednesday and Sunday nights, but on other days, it’s used as an extra dining area.
We literally took centre stage and were given the table right at the front.
Resisting the urge to do a bit of a song and dance, we took our seats and were handed menus. But we couldn’t take our eyes off our surroundings.
The bright lights and buzzing atmosphere make Bibis an exciting place to be.
When we finally looked at our menus, we were spoiled for choice.
Even the starters were difficult to choose from.
There’s a selection of around 10 different dishes, including BBQ pork spare ribs, golden fried whitebait, eggplant parmigiana and duck liver parfait, priced from around £6.50 to £10.
I opted for the baked goat’s cheese, topped with honey and toasted walnuts and served on a bed of balsamic roast peppers and salad, for £8.50.
The huge slab of cheese was warm and gooey, with a slight sweetness from the honey and a nice crunch from the walnuts, whilst the salad and peppers gave the dish a lift.
My dining companion went for the tiger prawns served in garlic butter and chilli, with focaccia, at £9.50.
The bright orange sauce smothering the half-dozen huge prawns looked delicious and the small but perfectly square piece of focaccia served on a separate plate was a cute addition.
It served its purpose of mopping up the sauce, which was incredibly tasty and had just the right amount of kick from the chilli.
Choosing the main course was also a bit of a battle.
With around 10 choices of pasta dishes and a dozen or so pizzas, plus fish specials and meat dishes such as Yorkshire venison, pheasant and pork, it’s no wonder we struggled.
Pastas start from £9.50, whilst the meat specials go up to £22.50.
I went for the roast rump of lamb, served with a rosemary and mint crust, red wine and Morello cherry sauce and gratin potatoes, for £17.50.
The generous serving of lamb was perfectly pink and so juicy, and was complemented well by the sauce.
The potatoes were the only element that let the dish down, as they were a little bland.
My dining companion was thrilled with her choice of beef medallions, served with a green peppercorn sauce and chips.
Although it was at the more expensive end of the menu – coming in at £22.50 – the meat was cooked just to her liking, as requested, and was incredibly tasty, as was the sauce.
The chips didn’t look as fresh or exciting as we’d hoped, and were largely left uneaten.
Almost fit to bursting, we agreed not to have a dessert.
Until we saw the dessert menu.
I ended up ordering ‘La Piantina’ – a dark chocolate mousse with cherries, a polenta and lemon biscuit, chocolate soil and raspberry ice cream, for £5.50.
Looks-wise, this was the show-stopper.
Served in a tiny plastic flower pot, with a sprig of mint coming out of the top, it looked like a miniature garden on a plate.
The mousse was suitably rich and sweet and the chocolate ‘soil’ was a lovely addition.
The raspberry ice cream was disappointing and the polenta biscuit half way down the mousse seemed a strange touch. But it wasn’t enough to spoil the dessert.
My companion had the profiteroles with vanilla cream and hot chocolate fudge sauce, at £5.75, which she said were the best she’d ever had.
The three-course meal, with a bottle of wine and the two cocktails, came to £104.
After the impressive but slightly pricy meal, we came to the conclusion that despite all the glitz and glamour, Bibis still remembers to put the food centre stage, even 40 years on.
Address: Criterion Place, Sovereign Street, Leeds. LS1 4AG.
Hours: 12pm - 10.30pm Tues - Thurs; 12pm - 11pm Fri - Sat; 12pm - 10pm Sun.
Tel: 0113 243 0905.