The rains may have held back but the yelpers most certainly did not for Leeds' first large scale yelper party, Taste At The Yelp Exchange, on Thursday the 24th November. That's right, we don't do things by halves here in Yorkshire, and to celebrate all things Leeds nearly 300 folk amassed at the gorgeous Corn Exchange for the utmost carousal. To revel in the occasion 16 sumptuous local businesses set up stall to offer up attendees samples of what they do best, amongst the festive décor of this iconic venue, which was the perfect way to see in the season.
As the guests arrived at the check-in, masters of the mystical contact ball Jim and Jake England Johns set about entertaining the crowds with their contact juggling skills, weaving and milling in amongst the guests as they collected their tickets for the initial sample. Anticipation and excitement were almost tangible in the air as everyone took in the surroundings, stopping to gaze at the gorgeous set up, and made the ever-tricky choice of where to choose first. And what a decision to make!
Us Brits love our queues, and so a long trail of attendees quickly formed at the nearest stall, Cheerful Chilli, whose battered sweetcorn cakes and vegetarian delights soon set folk's tongues alight with flavour. The craft beer revolution was in full swing at Brewdog's table, with an array of brews to sample, from 5a.m. Saint to Punk IPA – perfect to wash down the nutella and roasted hazlenut delights from #Brownies, whose plethora of festive flavoured treats kept people on a sugar high. Swillington Farm excited everyone at the thought of meat box deliveries, tempting folks' tastebuds with their exquisitely grilled sausages, all sourced from their organic, locally reared rare breed stock.
After the initial blast, a little entertainment was in order and so the night was kicked off with a high energy performance from the Dance Studio Leeds. Three of their utterly talented performers from the youth group, Heather Irving, Amy Fleming and Nicole Matthews, wowed the crowds with an upbeat 60's Medley, featuring Hairspray and Glee, which stopped everyone in their tracks in spite of all the samples – a testament to their talent! Everyone stepped back to nibble and note the trio as they twirled away in front of the humungous Christmas tree.
Post performance, a thirst came upon the yelpers, who re-visited the stalls to find Appleton Estate's refreshingly delicious, specially crafted cocktail for the party – the Yelp Appleton Christmas Treacle; which comprised of Appleton Estate VX Rum, 20ml Cinnamon Syrup, 3 dashes angostura bitters, topped with freshly pressed apple juice and was masterfully made by head mixologists, Mark Cato and Nino of The Maven Bar in Leeds. If that wasn't enough to quench the crowds, they had a number of spirits to sample, including Appleton Estate VX, Appleton Estate 8 year old, Appleton Estate 12 year old, Wray and Nephew, Koko Kanu, Bulldog Gin and Licor 43! Soaking up some of that sauce, the Sunshine Bakery offered an arrangement of their famous cupcakes in bitesized samples, including their exquisite Eton Mess, which had people baying for more. Bringing back the savoury, Lounge Bar & Grill offered up a myriad of fabulous canapés for folks to snack on, including smoked salmon tartlets, whilst temtping people to try out their fantastic Christmas menu this year. And to sweeten the proceedings once again, Indie Ices' home made, award winning, divine kulfi ice cream had people smacking their lips throughout the night – no matter how wintry the weather was! And with such delicious flavours as Cardamom, Mango and Lime, and Almond no wonder people just had to sample the selection.
After all that it was time for the second performance of the evening, and so once again folks set down their plates and took a well deserved rest whilst the show took place. This time people enjoyed a magnificent performance from Jake England Johns, whose floaty flower sticks sent everyone into a trance as he danced two sticks in motion atop the others, in this one-off fantastic cabaret act.
Once the performance was finished everyone again set about sampling more of the stalls, and it was high time for something spirited. Fortunately Gerry's Wine and Spirits were ready to remedy that, presenting people with the most delicious libations! Amongst specialist samples of Brockmans Gin and Antalntico rum they had a divine brandy mulled wine, complete with Courvoisier, which was plenty to warm the cockles of every yelper's heart. Those still feeling gluttonous were able to snuffle out further truffles at The Greedy Pig's stall, whose infamous sandwiches have been delighting folks far and wide. Not only did they have a plethora of delicious bites to offer, but the sweetest miniature greedy pig iced biscuits to boot! Of course there was more salivating to be done, just with a glance of the fare at Fabulously Fudgey. With such festive fancies as Christmas pudding fudge, Guinness fudge and other creative options, people couldn't get enough of the sweet stuff. Of course there was more to come however, courtesy of the fantastic Bepsoke Cupcake Company, whose delightful tearooms are in Harrogate. Their exquisite looking cupcakes tempted over many an attendee, displayed in a veritable rainbow of icing colours and flavours, from minature sample cakes to larger more decadent options! Of course, during all the sampling, folks got to spin the infamous Wheel of Yelp to win a prize – those who gambled on the wheel came away clutching all kinds of treats from Yelp sunglasses to Yelp playing cards.
The penultimate performance came courtesy of the talents of the Dance Studio Leeds Youth Group once again, whose magnificently magical performance had everyone in awe. This time a more seasonal vibe came through their footwork, with the most exquisite ballet display, where the girls practiaclly floated into the upper balconies of the beautiful venue in a piece entitled "Christmas Fairies".
As the cheers and applause continued for their show, everyone's hearts warmed by the fabulous performance, it was time for one final sup of the stalls. Andy Gilpin of Call Lane Social, helped deliver refreshment to everyone with a mouth-warming STROH Hot Chocolate, featuring Stroh 40% Austrian "Inlander Rum" with hot chocolate, and samples of Seve XO Liqueur, a French cognac with cherry, almond and vanilla and Xanté Pear Liqueur, a Swedish liqueur with cognac, Belgian pears and vanilla. The Olive Tree further fed folks with their delicious mixed greek dips of taramasalata, tsatziki and hummus served with bread as well as a traditional dessert, Stafithopita, which includes sultanas and grapes. Giorgios offered up some seasonal Italian pannetone sweet bread and an aperetif of delicious Limoncello to tantilise yelpers tastebuds afterwards. Those still suffering from sweet tooth could delight in the incredible cupcakes from The Marvellous Tea Dance Company, whose fabulous vintage kitsch parties have been held all over Leeds, and it seems no one could resist their chocolate brownies…
And, with one final showcase, yelpers saw the night come to a close with an astonishing performance from Sophia, whose hula act had everyone's jaws to the floor. What began as a fluid movement of dance and control, mesmerising every onlooker, soon gave way into a gravity defying manipulation of not one, nor two but four hula hoops at once across her entire body. As she maintained the four hoops for what seemed like an impossible passage of time, everyone's breath held hostage, folks stood enthralled at the performer in front of them!
Of course, this sadly meant the end was nigh to a spectacular night of all things Leeds. A special mention must got to St. Gemma's Hospice, with thanks to all those who gave generously, and the continued incredible work they perform. Specific thanks also go out to the film crews present on the night, courtesy of Leeds Met Film School and Savile & Chrome, and of course the fantastic photographer of the night Matthew Kitchen. Thanks also go to Dublin's amazing Annie L, London's lovely Elliot A and Manchester's magnificent Emma Louise H for all their hard work. This was a truly unique and special evening, showing a slice of what Leeds is all about. Not only can you find some delicious high quality bites from the most passionate people, exquisitely made drinks from some master crafters and shop in the gorgeous most iconic Corn Exchange, but you can also find some of the best in creative talent in the local arts scene – from dance right through to cabaret.
For those who can't wait to re-live the night, here's the first batch of photographs from the evening, and of course you can witter away with everyone about the event on the Talk thread too! For the twittersphere, you can of course show a little love to #yelpexchange and @yelpleeds, and watch this space for the videos of the event…
But hey, don't just take my word for it – check out what the yelpers themselves thought of the night!
"Cakes, booze and boxes of meat? Three noble interests combined under one roof with the very welcome garnish of it being free. Friendly crowd, occasional dancing to thin out the queues while I restocked at the stalls and the strongest mulled wine I've ever had. Almost too much fun for a school night if you ask me.
All the vendors did excellently to appear interested throughout and were both chatty and generous with their wares. How worthwhile a commercial exercise it will turn out to be for them is probably impossible to track, but I at least will be ordering a Swillington meat box and bottle of Seve XO come pay day." – Greg M
"Looking back it just didn't fulfil my expectations and I really don't know what to say except… blimey! My expectations were not only exceeded they were rendered obsolete. We were entertained by theatre/circus stars as well as dancers (those girls were amazing on their points) and I was impressed by Sophia's ability to control four hoops.
Of course the main reason i was here was to sample food from many places I have heard of but not had the chance to try. In the interests of making a full assessment I tried to visit every stand and the one thing they had in common was the extremely high quality of the product. It was wonderful to meet some old and new yelpers." – Tim M
"Just one more cupcake. Just one more brownie. Just one more cheerful chilli corn cake coated in chilli sauce. I'm sure if I get it in my mouth soon my stomach won't yet have warned my oesophagus that things are perhaps getting a bit full down there, especially if I wash it down with some beer as that's not bloating at all. In the space of 20 minutes my taste buds indulged themselves in more flavours than an accident with a funnel and a spice rack. Does it get any better?" – Ian P
Of course, this is what Yelp is all about. Not only can you read and write reviews of local businesses, but you can get involved in our lovely Yelp community – offline as well as online – at these fabulous one-off events. It's been divine Leeds, and thanks for coming to celebrate.
Until next time, see you on Yelp!
Leeds Community Manager and Lover of all things Leodian.