Reviewed by Sean Dodson
Bibis is a Titanic Italian restaurant tucked away among the bridges and railway arches of the Call Lane area of Leeds. Arriving on foot and in the evening it strikes somewhat out of place among the alleyways and viaducts that serve the nearby railway station, as if finding a glittering music box inside a packing crate or coming across a soprano opera singer playing in a pub band.
Inside, it’s a vast restaurant decked out in an art deco style that reminds strongly of an ocean liner or perhaps a glitzy Vegas casino. The drinks menu alone was large enough to contain the pages of an Arthur Conan-Doyle novel and surely even Sherlock would be impressed by the four pages of rums on offer, or perhaps the 15 varieties of English Gin not to mention five Scottish gins, and three French ones.
The menu is far from elementary. an enormous offering of several dozen Italian standards with a smattering of international flavours, including tempura, chorizo and beef wellington. We started with a hearty zuppetta di astice e cannelini (£8.75), lobster bisque with rosemary scented cannellini beans; and melanzane alla parmigiana (£7.15) baked aubergines gilded with provolone, mozzarella, parmesan cheese, tomato and basil. In keeping with the vastness of the place the portions were extremely generous and we worried quite early on if we could make main course.
Luckily a couple of glasses of the excellent rioja blanco (£21 a bottle) refreshed our appetites and we were ready for the even larger plates of baked salmon and asparagus pancakes with taleggio and mascarpone cheese gratin and steamed vegetables; and a grilled trio of tiger prawn, turbot and sea bass (£20.50), the latter from the sizable offering of daily specials. The fish was a sublime and easily the best dish of the night.
The service was organised, a busy trio of waiters on call to service our gluttony and under their encouragement we somehow we made room for desert, a delicious tiramisu came soaked in samubca and mascarpone cream (£5.50); only the white chocolate crème brule fell somewhat flat. Bibis serves hundreds of diners each night. You can marvel as a small army of chefs’ toil away at an enormous open plan restaurant or soak up an atmosphere that reminds strongly of being on holiday. It is not intimate in any way, but bold and brash and bigger than any other restaurant that serves food as well as this.