Contrary to the Cole Porter song, fleas do NOT fall in love.
To confirm this, I read an online study; “Off-host observations of mating and postmating behaviours in the cat flea” (US National Library of Medicine).
I can’t unsee what I have learnt, but at least it confirmed my belief that these blood-suckers are unromantic – I quote, “the male generally grasped the female’s tarsi with his claws” – unlike the birds and the bees, who love a bit of Netflix and chill.
"There was also a lot going on when it came to the venison biltong option"
Anyway, though it’s not always a great idea to reference insects in your restaurant name (they could equally have called themselves the Courageous Kangaroo or the Lazy Jellyfish, according to the lyrics) we’ll forgive this quirky place.
It’s the newest offering from the people behind Edinburgh bistros Three Birds in Bruntsfield and The Apiary in Newington. Their brand seems perfectly suited to bohemian Broughton Street. Though barely a fortnight old, it was busy when we visited, possibly because folk were eating two à la carte courses for £15 with its pre-theatre offer.
This place’s sister eateries are popular thanks to affordable menus that feature experimental, nay eccentric, dishes.
I went for a toasted sunflower seed sprinkled starter of smoked eel, ricotta and pickled chilli rillette, which was creamy and lively, with a tempered heat from the sousing, and four thin blinis to spread the chunky paste onto. Good, and there was also a lot going on when it came to the venison biltong option.
These dried strips of meat were supposed to be cured with elderflower, but the pleasingly salty and feral flavours obliterated any promise of the delicate scent of summer. It came with various, mainly sugary, accessories – pickled cucumber, pomegranate seeds and sweetcorn, with a barbecue dressing.
The best of our trio was probably the confit chicken and charred leek croquettes, which were vixen coloured and smoky breadcrumbed bollards of shredded chookyness, with an ugly and grey, but addictively nutty and sharply yoghurty, black tahini crème fraîche on the side.
The starters won, as the mains were just slightly skewiff. My choice sounded great; “sticky soy and star anise beef cheek, wasabi potatoes, pak choi, pickled radish and ginger”. The tar coloured meat had obviously been slow cooked for a century, but, though scented with star anise, it was a little dry and not sticky. Also, I couldn’t taste any wasabi in the boulangere-ish potatoes and the pak choi was undercooked.
The roast chicken supreme was a good piece of meat, and the masala sauce was beautifully fragrant, but does popcorn dunked in that sauce make for “curried popcorn”? I dunno. Anyway, the jus was also dotted with glossy broad beans and came with a slightly boring bean laced pile of hilbeh (a fenugreek dip, apparently) crushed potato.
We weren’t totally sold on the stuffed squid, which was a bit like an overflowing Hoover bag with its claggy chorizo-spiked stuffing centre, though the accompaniment of prawn and pea risotto was more successful.
For pudding, we couldn’t not order the sweet potato and cocoa rum drizzle cake with sweetcorn and chilli ice-cream (£4.50). Could they really make something that sounds so revolting taste good? Um, no. The cake – brown sponge with minimal alcohol – was offensive, but the ice-cream was Godawful. However, one of my dining partners liked it and the other thought it OK, so there you go.
The rocky road (£4.50) option featured a much more successful ice-cream creation – peanut butter and strawberry jam. Not sophisticated, just Willy Wonka on steroids.
Anyway, I like this place, mainly because I quite enjoy sampling their experiments, some of which could make a MasterChef contestant blush.
Can human guinea pigs fall in love? Perhaps.
Dinner for three, excluding drinks, £54
32b Broughton Street, Edinburgh
(0131 556 8092, www.educatedflea.co.uk)