Writer Jane Austen was captivated by the beauty of a pair of exotic peacocks – but less impressed when the Duke of Warwick shot them, stuffed them and presented them to her in a glass case.
Now the unfortunate birds can be appreciated in all their glory as they take pride of place in the newly-refurbished York pub at Broomhill.
Quite how they got there is a mystery, although if legend is to be believed, it was down to Victorian Sheffield University professors John ‘Bully Boy’ Brown and Tommy ‘Knocker’ Smith....
The tale of their grand journey of discovery aboard the HMS Misadventure, adorns the walls of the bar, along with a whole range of whacky exhibits.
There’s Tommy’s spectacles (hidden by Bully Boy while marooned on the isle of Winnebago); Bully’s pocket watch (whose timely intervention saved him from a poison dart); a curiosity of Victorian paraphernalia, butterflies, a polished turtle shell, hand-painted anatomical drawings... And those peacocks – the one item whose provenance is fact rather than fantasy.
The global adventure and its various exhibits is the work of designer Paul Carruthers, who took months to find, restore and incorporate the pieces into his entertaining work of fiction.
It’s certainly different - and it’s a good excuse to revisit an old favourite.
“Initially people can’t work out what’s changed, but as soon as they pick up the story they get really involved. Everyone seems to be enjoying the change,” says duty manager Chris Ockerse, giving us a Tuesday evening tour.
Another new addition to the York is head chef Danny Foster, an ex-Chaucer student who has worked at a number of respected restaurants both at home and abroad, but has long had his eye on the York.
“Now I’m here, I’m really excited,” he says. “The atmosphere is great and we have great lads in the kitchen.”
He approves of the new look and he loves the atmosphere.
“The York has a wonderful cosy and relaxed feel to it. Food is about enjoyment as well as sustenance. So great atmosphere, drinks, food and company!”
Having a new touch on the menu brings a fresh offer for York regulars.
“As a chef I like to think a bit outside the box; I don’t like to play safe as I think we should stand out,” says Danny.
“Taking what I’ve learned from all the great chefs I’ve worked with, and using my own knowledge, I have plans to use all these great local ingredients.”
The York prides itself on using fresh foods, as far as possible grown within a 15-mile radius. All chutneys, jams, pickles and sauces are made on site and the pub even has its own smoke house.
Danny is keen to work with his customers too: “If you had something unusual, that you don’t really see on a menu, come and talk to me and we’ll see if we can develop the idea and put it on the specials board,” he says.
The York menus include an early bird (two courses £11.95) and a good à la carte with a choice of nine starters and more than a dozen mains, plus specials. And they’re already showing flashes of the new inspiration.
We’re shown to a table near the bar, where a revised layout of pumps, removal of a partition and new lighting has created a more contemporary feel.
My companion starts with an intriguing-sounding ‘bird and pig picnic pie’.
Two chunky slices, pork pie-style beneath a hot water crust, are packed with layers of meaty ham hock, smoked chicken and tooth-suckingly tangy piccalilli.
It’s a fresh take on a traditional cornish pasty and it works beautifully.
Home-smoked trout is subtle enough to enhance the delicate fishy flavour. Little pieces of ruby grapefruit and crunchy aniseed fennel perk up the accompanying salad.
Danny is excited to have a smoker at his disposal and promises to use it to its full potential. This is evident in the range of mains – including smoked bacon belly, beef ribs and even halloumi.
I go for spicy pork tenderloin, carved on to an unusual cabbage-wrapped parcel of thyme-scented mushroom duxelle. There’s a tasty pink peppercorn and herb sauce, a vine of roasted tomatoes and peppery watercress garnish.
My companion has been lured by pie of the day – beef bourguignon in fluted shortcrust pastry – which is disappointingly dry. But it’s the last one of the day, so maybe we just left it too late.
It comes with mushy peas and triple-cooked chips: good, pub grub favourites.
Desserts all sound wonderful; too difficult to choose. So we share a selection with some friends at the next table.
My favourite is the bitter, dark chocolate tart – but mainly because it comes with out-of-this-world salty peanut butter ice cream. Amazing!
My companion goes for an unusual peachy Bakewell tart – a pleasantly solid texture with plenty of bite.
I’m told the strawberry indulgence – a concoction of posset, sorbet, white chocolate, whipped cream and shortbread – is also divine.
Three-course dinner for two, excluding drinks and service, is 41.35.
* The York, 243-247 Fulwood Road, Broomhill, Sheffield (0114) 266 4624 The York