Changing face of Leeds dining scene

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As prestigious restaurant Bibis celebrates its 40th anniversary, Juliette Bains takes a look at what has become a Leeds institution, and how the city’s dining scene has evolved.

LEEDS’ impressive dining scene attracts locals, tourists and celebrities from the furthest corners of the country.

In the past 40 years we’ve seen local institutions come and go but there are a few that are still going strong after decades in the business.

Bibis Italianissimo is one of them and is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

After three moves, it’s safe to say the restaurant has fought hard to survive.

Restaurant manager Giuseppe Rizzello said: “We have changed with the times over the decades and have always adapted to give people what they want. I think that is the key to Bibis’ success.

“We must be doing something right – 40 years on and we are still here!”

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Going back four decades, Bibis originally opened on March 30, 1974 at Mill Hill, before it moved to Greek Street in 1988.

The move was slightly worrying for some, as Greek Street was made up mostly of offices at the time.

But by the time Bibis left, the road had become a bustling bar and dining destination.

It was during the restaurant’s Greek Street phase that pop singer Gary Barlow fell in love with the restaurant, declaring in an interview that his favourite restaurant was Bibis in Leeds because of the Beef Wellington dish.

Akbar’s Indian restaurant now occupies the previous Bibis venue.

The Italian eatery moved to its current site at Criterion Place in 2004, when owner Oliver Teodorani spent a reported £3.5m to buy and transform it into a flamboyant, art deco-themed restaurant.

Teodorani enlisted the help of Tessa Kennedy, designer of the Savoy’s Rivoli bar, and Chris Watkins, designer of the Ritz Hotel Bar in London, to make sure the new site oozed glamour.

Live music nights were introduced, and are now held every Wednesday and Sunday – a concept that many believe is the secret to its success.

Reservations manager Joao Paulo Sperandio said: “We started holding Bibis Showtimes in 2004 and they were an instant hit.

“At that time and even now there is nowhere in Leeds that hosts the kind of entertainment and events that we do.

“It’s all about giving our customers that party feeling – great food, wonderful drinks, fantastic service and a brilliant show.”

Bar manager Daniel Ayton said: “Bibis is a completely unique venue. The bar is right at the heart of Bibis and is a standalone feature in itself.”

He added: “We have a fantastic team of award-winning bartenders who are dedicated to creating the best cocktails and atmosphere possible.”

Bibis’ executive chef, Mario Sciacca, spent most of his career working in the hotel catering industry before joining Bibis in 2011.

He said: “It is a real accolade that Bibis is still going strong after 40 years in business.

“We cater for an extraordinary amount of customers for a city centre restaurant.

“I would describe our menu as ‘fusion Italian’. We try to cater to everyone’s tastes and needs.

“For example our new Café and Brasserie menu offers diners the chance to grab a quick bite to eat whilst on the go or on a lunch break.

“Our a la carte menu allows for a more relaxed experience and we encourage customers to take their time whilst dining here.

“We have always tailored our menus to keep up with what our customers want and that is reflected by them coming back time and time again.”

Marketing manager Annabel Hutchison said: “Bibis is remarkable in every way; from the bar to the restaurant to the open kitchen and the renowned Showtimes.

“There is nowhere that does what Bibis does and that is right at the heart of Bibis’ success.

“We are incredibly proud to be celebrating our 40th birthday this year and we have some great events lined up and hope that our loyal customers join in the celebrations with us.”

Bibis isn’t the only successful Leeds restaurant to have survived for the past few decades.

Salvo’s Restaurant on Otley Road in Headingley will also be celebrating its 40th anniversary in a couple of years’ time.

Salvatore Dammone opened the venue in 1976, and now the second generation of the family are continuing the Salvo’s tradition.

John Dammone said: “Leeds’ dining scene has changed massively.

“During the 70s, we had Flying Pizza, Da Mario’s and Bibis leading the way.

“but now they will ask its exact origin.

“People are so much more adventurous with their food these days. Back then, I would take an order and people would ask me what mozzarella was,

“They have got more sophisticated palates and restaurants have had to up their game.

“One of the things that makes Leeds stand out is that there are a plethora of fantastic independent restaurants in the city – places like Kendells and The Foundry.”

John prides himself on the fact the restaurant takes a weekly delivery from Milan Market, as he believes customers nowadays can taste the difference in flavour.

“Customers demand so much more nowadays so you can’t stand still,” he explains.

“I would like to think that whilst Salvo’s hasn’t actually moved premises, we have gradually evolved over the years too.”


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