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We’re back on southern soil after a whirlwind weekend of venue hopping in the UK’s fourth largest city, where destinations old and new showcased an eclectic mix of event offerings.
After the swift two hour and 13 minute train journey, our first stop was the Royal Armouries (tel: 0113 220 1999) and despite there being no recent developments, it was a great chance to see the range of event spaces the dock-side museum houses.
The Armouries Hall can be resized (using partition walls) according to group size and will hold up to 1,500 guests for conferences, banquets and dinner dances. The Bury Theatre, a few rooms down, is a more intimate space with seats for 250 people over two tiers and there’s a green room for speakers to straighten their ties in.
We loved the hunting gallery, decked out with antique weaponry, hanging antlers and a fireplace, where groups of eight to 16 can enjoy themed menus. Other options include the decorative Oriental Gallery (unfortunately closed on our visit, due to a moth infestation) and the Tournament Gallery, where cases of King Henry VIII’s armour surround re-enacted jousting tournaments.
After an afternoon downpour (not uncommon we’re told), it’s off to the Park Plaza (tel: 0113 380 4042) for drinks and top-notch sushi, all made freshly in front of us, in the venue’s 200-capacity ballroom. Our favourite dish had to be the slow-roasted pork, glazed in soy sauce and marinated in apple juice – moist. With views of the city centre through the floor-to-ceiling windows, the four-star hotel was well placed to welcome us to Leeds.
We kicked off the following morning with a trip to Leeds Metropolitan University’s Rose Bowl, where event specialists Well Met Conferencing (tel: 0113 812 8555) hosted its ‘Flavour of Leeds’ exhibition, which gave buyers the chance to meet with Leeds’ best venues.
The likes of Leeds United FC (tel: 0871 334 1919) were present, showcasing their facilities, while we were kept busy with tastings and activities. The shooting simulator was particularly fun, although we blamed the previous night’s mojitos for not hitting the bullseye.
Once again, the heavens opened, just in time for our drum-led procession to the weekend’s main event. The £60m first direct arena (tel: 0844 248 1585) lays claim to the ‘best acoustics in Europe’ and, when it opens at the end of July, will play host to Bruce Springsteen’s first arena gig in six years.
After a minor hiccup on the escalator (breaking it), we made our way up to the second tier to get a better look at the 13,000-seat, fan-shaped (the first of its kind the UK) venue. It’s predicted to host around 140 events a year, including Sir Elton John and Cirque du Soleil, generating a whopping £28m a year for the city.
The venue looks set to be well geared up for hospitality, with private balconies available for groups of 10 to 16 guests, as well as an event suite and lounge packages.
After a busy morning we had the afternoon to ourselves before drying off and heading to the ambiguously named ‘Mad Scientist’ evening at our hosting hotel, the Radisson Blu (tel: 0113 236 6000). Held on the venue’s mezzanine, the evening gave us a chance to see some of the event spaces available.
The reception bar overlooks the main restaurant and lobby, giving it both a little privacy and some of the bustling atmosphere from guests below. The private dining room looks great for intimate dinners, holding a maximum of eight guests, with the adjacent boardroom holding the same.
Our favourite spaces were the screening and games rooms, which would work well for more relaxed meetings: delegates can combine business with a film, playing pool or battling it out on an Xbox. The science element of the evening came in the form of Blummenthal-style molecular food.
Canapés such as inside-out chicken skewers and mini-beef pies made the rounds, while what looked like mini ice creams turned out to be savoury cones filled with chicken mousse. Dessert was just as fun, having to crack through egg shells for chocolate and strawberries, while cream kebabs were theatrically frozen with liquid nitrogen. A few more frozen gin and tonics later and it was time to head back to our suite.
Harvey Nichols (pictured above) (tel: 0113 204 8000) was the final stop. The first outside London, the Leeds store is located in the historic Victorian Quarter of the city centre. Having been fully refurbished, the Fourth Floor Café was looking slick, with metal flourishes, large mirrors and art deco styling. On the menu were dishes such as ricotta gnocchi with roasted artichokes, beef flat-iron steak with Yukon gold mash and port jus, and our personal favourite, chocolate and pistachio mousse, honey ice cream and cinder toffee.
The Fourth Floor has a number of spaces available for private bookings or you can take over the whole level. It’s a good spot for fun combination events, with tutored wine tastings and cocktail masterclasses working well as breakout sessions.