Bibis, which sells itself as an Italian institution, brings a touch of sparkle to city centre Leeds. It’s easy New York glamour, 1920s-style, with a fabulous Art Deco setting and food to match.
A family run restaurant which has thrived in the city for more than 40 years, it has a reputation for good food and an entertaining atmosphere and it doesn’t disappoint.
Surrounded as it is by what seems to be a sea of car parks, my initial impression was the location lacks character and the kudos which would be provided by a string of salubrious neighbours but I soon realised this is probably one of its greatest selling points.
People don’t just pop into Bibis as they wander by; a visit will have been planned and its proximity to the train station is definitely a bonus.
We went on a Saturday night, and we weren’t alone – it was packed, every seat taken. And there was an air of celebration – people were here to have a good time. It seemed everyone was there for some sort of occasion. There were large groups of friends sipping cocktails, an elderly couple holding hands, a family with an age-range spanning 70 years and the youngest, a boy of about three, curled up asleep on his chair.
Styled from the outside with bulbs from a Broadway mirror, the lighting led a certain theme which set the tone inside as well. Ceiling spotlights and chandeliers added a touch of sparkle, while every eye was drawn to the centrepiece bar, flickers of light dancing off what seemed like thousands of glasses.
Service was impeccable. We booked online and then, annoyed that I might have to wait for confirmation, I called them as well. But they were already on it and knew our booking before I’d finished my opening sentence.
We arrived early, expecting to have to wait at the bar, but they offered us the chance to go straight to our table.
Our slick waiter was well-schooled, leaving us smiling at his easy confidence and casual deference. It soon became apparent he too was Italian (as were most of the waiters and chefs) and an enthusiastic expert in the food he was delivering. This authenticity must surely be one of Bibis’ strongest selling points – highly skilled waiters of Italian stock with a thorough knowledge – and interest – in the food they are serving.
Yet it’s almost inevitable that this authenticity is Anglicised somewhat. For example, a heavy sprinkling of mushroom which appears in almost every pasta option. We settled on a mix of classic Italian dishes with some we just fancied because they sounded good.
Going with the celebratory mood, we had a Peroni (£5.25) and a glass of prosecco (£6.25) to begin the night.
To start, I had the grilled goat cheese, caramelized with honey, roasted flaked almonds with minted beetroot and salad leaves (£8.95) It was a perfect blend of chalky, nutty and sweet and turned out to the highlight of the meal. Toasted nuts gave way to a crumbly inside, with a sweet beetroot drizzle (no hint of mint) offsetting the slightly tangy cheese.
My partner’s carpaccio di manzo, thinly sliced raw beef fillet with celery ribbons, rocket leaves, Parmesan shavings and an olive oil pizzaiola dressing (£9.95), didn’t disappoint.
The different flavours were well matched, which meant the dish soon disappeared.
I gave in to the mushrooms for my main, settling on Pollo alla Boscailoa (£15.25), chicken breast in a melange of wild mushroom cream sauce with steamed rice. It was perfectly tender with a rich creamy sauce and a (perhaps too small for my tastes) side of rice. It didn’t quite match up to the starter but it was delicious all the same.
The Tagliata di Manzo allo Modenese (£21.50), was a sliced 10oz rib-eye with rocket leaves, heirloom tomatoes, Parmesan shavings and aged balsamic glaze. It also went down very well. It was cooked medium with just a slither of juice, complimented by skin-on fries.
Dessert was a bourbon vanilla creme brulee (£5.95), served with a light sesame tuile, and an orange mousse (£5.95) with lemon cream on a walnut and honey base served with a berry compote. There was a little too much happening with the latter, with a multitude of (admittedly tasty) flavours all competing for attention on the same small plate. Meanwhile, the creme brulee, though perfectly caramelised, had no hint of bourbon.
There was a slight, delightfully unexpected, challenge on the wine menu while we ordered a last Chardonnay (£6).
The Albarossa Banfi la Lus (£10.10 a glass), it would seem, is a favourite of Oliver. Now with a name-check like that, we had to give it another go. It was a full bodied, oaky red, packed with deep flavours of plum and cherry and quite fabulous.
The final bill came to £104.67, which somehow surprised me. I had expected it perhaps to be a little lower.
Bibis screams glitz and glamour, it’s unashamedly over the top, from the black marble bathrooms to the ostentatious chandeliers (it’s been like that for years) but it’s clearly something that works for them and their customers. There are classic Art Deco touches everywhere. I loved the lighting, the curtains and chairs with their sharp black and gold colours shot through with a hint of deep purple. The food, while on the pricey side perhaps for what it was, was still reliably good.
From the outside, Bibis is lit up like a Christmas tree bauble in one of the quieter parts of town and this theme is continued inside, with a clearly defined sense of style. It’s all the glamour of 1920s New York right here in the middle of Leeds.
Address: Sovereign St, Leeds LS1 4AG
Telephone: 0113 243 0905