Barclays Bank on Wood Street, Wakefield, has gone the way of many of its ilk and been turned into a restaurant - better that than a nightclub or ‘fun’ pub as some of the others have become.
After closing for business in 2012, the former bank had a £1m makeover and now houses Qubana, an established Cuban-themed tapas bar. It moved there a couple of months ago from much smaller premises a street away where it had steadily built up a loyal following since its inception in 2008.
Obviously a wise move. We struggled to book a table on the Thursday of our visit and settled for a 9pm sitting - the only one available. Exterior signage is subtle, so much so that the entrance to the restaurant is easy to miss - especially if you’re from out of town.
It’s a beautiful building, supposedly dating from the early 19th century with high vaulted ceilings, an impressive bright white plasterwork frieze running around the walls and massive pillars. Pictures, mirrors, paintings and posters with a Cuban theme are stacked high on every wall and there are some really interesting and very stylish light fittings. The bar, which takes up most of the back wall has a ceiling-height glass shelf unit stacked with bottles of spirits. It really works and all credit must go to the designers.
By the time we arrived, the place was packed with the resultant noise level making it difficult to hold a conversation without raising our voices. My dining companion likened it to a ‘flock of chickens’.
Seating is nicely spaced with some tables on a raised dias and others set into four-person booths with leather sofas. The old vault, complete with reinforced steel door has been turned into a private dining room for eight with its own menu which is a nice touch. A couple of outside areas will come into their own come the summer although in the rooftop terrace it was already standing room only on what was quite a chilly night.
Qubana has always enjoyed a good reputation and I was keen to find out whether the move upmarket was going to have any effect on service, food quality and price.
We were soon seated and decided to push the boat out and have a cocktail apiece me a Qubana punch, she a Qubana mojito, not badly priced at £5 and £7 respectively.
My punch was a nice combination of flavours but the mojito was ridiculously sweet and quite undrinkable and despite our waitress telling us ‘that’s how we make them here’ once she replaced it with another, it was different again.
I’ve never been to Cuba but my guest has - a number of times - and as she said, there’s not much to celebrate about food in Cuba. They eat a lot of rice and beans with a bit of meat and chicken thrown in and they are often out of stock of what is on the menu.
Qubana’s website says they ‘take the sensual, Latin flair of Cuba and combine it with the honest flavours of Spain to create dishes that perfectly fuse the two cultures’.
There is a good selection of dishes on the menu, both tapas and ‘mains’ but not so overwhelming as to make choosing difficult.
To start with we had a meat and cheese platter, not very substantial (a bit more bread would have been nice - I know, we should have asked for some) but very tasty and good value at £9, and a couple of tapas for good measure: pulled pork tacos with sour cream, salsa and cheese (£5.30) and vegetarian jambalaya (£5). The tapas are large, - more like what the Spanish call a half racione and not expensive. Both tasted really good.
Main courses were ropa vieja with lime rice (£13).This is a classic stew made from shredded beef, herbs and tomatoes, and jambalaya with chicken, chorizo, king prawns, rice and beans (£14). I enjoyed the stew, the meat tender and the flavours nicely combined and though the jambalaya was proclaimed to be stodgy it was nevertheless very tasty although the chorizo was a bit too salty. Feeling greedy we also ordered an extra portion of cajun fries to nibble on.
Qubana have pitched their prices at just the right level, especially with regard to drinks.
A bottle of decent Argentinian Atamisque Malbec was £21 and pints of Estrella Lager £3.80 and the choice of spirits and cocktails is decent.
The staff are terrific; enthusiastic and helpful with beaming smiles and really pleasant manners and service is quick and attentive.
The price, including a bottle of wine and cocktails for two was £82.60. A lunchtime menu has sandwiches and wraps from £4 and three tapas for £9 which is really good value and if you book a table on a Friday or Saturday you’ll be serenaded by live musicians and singers. Once a month there is a tribute night, we’d just missed Freddie Mercury but Peter Kay is still to come.
Address: 1-3 Wood St Wakefield, WF1 2EL
Telephone: 01924 299000
Opening times: Mon-Thu, noon – 10pm; Fri–Sat, 10 am–11 pm (bar opens ‘till 2 am; Sun 10 am–10 pm