Bibi’s – the Wolseley of the North?

If the Wolseley is the best restaurant in London, then what about the provinces?  Leeds, for example, has a proud tradition of brewing beer, staffing call centres, building the world’s first Dalek shaped skyscraper, and breeding people who say “eeh bah gum!”.  So surely not a place for fine dining then?

Is it a bar?  Is it a Ristorante?  Is it a car park?

Bibi’s would beg to differ.  Serving discerning customers for over 20 years on fashionable Greek Street, the owners persuaded a bank manager (clearly on acid in 2004) to fund an ambitious business plan to move the entire operation to……..the ground floor of a car park.  Bibi’s “Italianissimo” occupies a large slice of Criterion Place multi-storey round the back of an unfashionable and underdeveloped area behind the railway station.

These days, the bank manager must be laughing all the way to the, well, er…bank I suppose!  Bibi’s is by far and away the most popular resto in Leeds, possibly in the North of England.

Although Bibi’s does not take reservations on Saturdays, I rang ahead anyway.  Apparently, they hadn’t heard of Confessions of a Wino and even if they had, they were confident enough to risk a bad review.  So we had to wait in the bar with the common public.  I might have said great unwashed but I have never seen a better dressed selection of our species.  I wondered where these glitterati might be going after eating?  Surely people haven’t dressed up so exquisitely, just to dine, since the art-deco period?

Perhaps it is the magnificent art-deco interior (and exterior) that inspires such sartorial elegance?  In fact, Bibi’s is the most impressive piece of building design I have seen in ages.  The interior is a grand rich wood, Italian ceramic, marble and mirror tiramisu that gives a sense of being of being on the Titanic (although perhaps without the feeling of impending doom).  One can excuse the exterior being a modern car park, because it gives Bibi’s the unique boast of being the only city centre resto with the ability to accommodate 500 BMWs on site.  Which is just as well because it must be the biggest eatery I have ever seen.  A good first impression then.

Even the food was excellent.  I was disappointed that there was not much seafood on the menu, no oysters for example, but this was made up for by simply conceived and magically cooked dishes – a miracle considering how many diners needed serving contemporaneously.

Chilean Wine - nice choice from an average list…

But not everything was great.  We had to wait more than two hours for a table.  When we were finally seated, the surly sommelier was interested in no more than taking our order as quickly as possible.  No chance of asking for any advice then.  Maybe that is unfair.  If you are used to eating in London you would be concerned at some of the prices on the wine list.  Hardly a single bottle was over 30 quid!

My wine (a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc – Vina La Granje) was no rip off at £18.50, this is Yorkshire remember!  Lemon, gooseberry, pineapple and lime – sharp, cutting but quite likeable (unlike the sommelier).

It is so big and impersonal in here…why did I come?

I persisted with my seafood desires and ordered oak smoked salmon with dill and crème fraîche.  This was top notch and the main course mixed grilled fish platter with lemon oil was its equal.

The duo of Yorkshire cheeses were simultaneously delicious and great value at £5.25 the pair.  The macchiato was definitely Italian.  The whole experience was professionally delivered, competently cooked and beautifully conceived.  But there was no soul.  There was a coldness, a lack of friendliness, a feeling of being on the edge of being ignored.  The customers, for the most part, were smiling through gritted teeth.  The snobs of Leeds trying to out-manoeuvre each other to the best table, any table!  Trying to out-dress each other, out-make-up each other, out-spend each other (OK maybe not out-spend, the bill for two was a very reasonable £72.66 including service).

Must have been for the great food and awesome interior design…

Despite the great food and simply stunning interior, I don’t see Bibi’s as the Wolseley of the North.  It is just a sausage factory under a car park, and I am the sausage meat.  I cannot work out why it is so popular.

Bibi’s Italianissimo.  Criterion Place, Leeds, LS1 4AG.  T:  +44 (0) 113 243 0905  F:  +44 (0) 113 243 7270

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One Response to “Bibi’s – the Wolseley of the North?”

  1. Ciaran Says:

    I have to say I liked Bibi’s a lot more in its original incarnation, although the interior of the ‘new’ place definitely justifies the “magnificent”.

    In your first picture, the window in the very top left of the picture is where once upon a time I worked late into the night on many occasions, while my car was parked somewhere near your table.

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