3 Leaves
Unit 30
Blackrock Market
19A, Main Street
Co Dublin
Phone: 087 769 1361

Irish Daily Mail
23 June 2018

My favourite UK restaurant critic, Marina O’Loughlin, Tweeted during the week that she was apologising in advance for her third rave review in a row. “Damn restaurants getting damn better,” she commented.

There’s a lot in that, not just in London but also in Dublin and, to some extent elsewhere in the country. And most of us critics don’t go looking for trouble, anyway. In this job, it’s much more fun to seek out the good stuff. It doesn’t always work, of course.

Anyway, Santosh Thomas and his wife Millie have been wowing south Dublin at their very small, simply presented restaurant in Blackrock, just around the corner from the stellar Heron & Grey of eventual Michelin fame. I’ve been meaning to get to 3 Leaves for the better part of two years and now I regret having wasted so much time prevaricating.

His Indian food is spectacularly good, multi-layered in terms of flavours and the polar opposite of the muddy palette you get from lesser kitchens. And this kitchen is positively tiny.

We dropped in for lunch during the week and found, at 12.30, a queue, mainly of men in suits. This is the office rush. A handwritten menu changes every day both for lunch, a one-tray affair, and for the more elaborate set menu in the evening when booking is absolutely essential.

“Persons in the mode of goodness prefer foods that promote the life span, and increase virtue, strength, health, happiness, and satisfaction. Such foods are juicy, succulent, nourishing, and naturally tasteful.”

This apposite quote from the Bhagavad Gita is 3 Leaves’ mission statement. I can report that the lunchtime tasting menu, for €10, represents the essence of such a sentiment. It all came on a small, neat tray, for each of us, with a glass of well-filtered tap water

So, what did this involve? Dal masala was a small dish of mildly spiced lentils topped with little crisp gram flour puffs. Imagine the most divinely savoury rice crispies but with a bit more substance and you have it. These boondi (I think) added texture to the most intensely flavoured dal I’ve ever had.

Then there was what the menu referred to as “mixed veggie”, a salty, hotly spiced combination featuring aubergine, potato and more.

The most unusual dish, however, was chicken lazeez, a strikingly fragrant, quite perfumed and, I imagine, very slowly cooked chicken in cream with gentle spices. I couldn’t quite place the leading spice here and when I enquired of Santosh afterwards, he asked if I really wanted to know. And I did, even if this response caused some mild trepidation.

The elusive flavour and the source of that haunting perfume turned out to be, rather to my relief, sandalwood.

And then there was beef do raza with perfectly tender meat in a rich, spicy, earthy sauce with a flavour of thoroughly caramelised onion with a touch of burnt sugar. Not surprisingly, this tasted radically different to my own vague attempts at such a dish at home. Santosh’s key gift to the gastric juices is his ability to layer flavours so that they gradually reveal themselves in the mouth. Ability and, no doubt, the time taken to do things really properly.

The fact that we had an outstanding meal, with pretty, multi-coloured basmati pilaf rice, that I managed to finish everything (almost a record) and that the bill came to €20 for two of us, all in the heart of Blackrock, is pretty stupefying.

The essence of 3 Leaves is a determination to do things properly, without shortcuts, from scratch, and with a great deal of hard work in a tiny space. Restaurants may be getting better but this kind of vision and application, coupled with such democratic prices, is still a rarity and needs to be celebrated.

I am tempted to say that you should beat a path to its door, but people have been doing so for some time. And there’s no mystery as to why.

3 Leaves – the name comes from the coriander, mint and curry leaves – is an absolute gem.