I’m proud to say I know the city centre of Dublin pretty well, in fact, I’d go as far as to say I know it like the back of my hand. I have my usual dining haunts and my favourite taverns for tipples but sometimes, admittedly, I can be slightly ignorant of Dublin’s southside.
I know where the noteworthy restaurants are, but as a Northside gal, I don’t know the hidden gems or where to find them. I set out to rectify this by planning a trip out to Blackrock, where I have heard from countless people sits one of the best Indian restaurants in Dublin.
My dining companion and I found ourselves walking down the winding lanes of Blackrock market and feeling like we were on holiday by exploring the local markets and hearing pockets of conversations, smelling food being flash-fried and the aroma of spices adding flavour to dishes.
It’s these spices that draw us into 3 Leaves. Taking its name from the three main spices used in Indian cooking – mint, curry and coriander – 3 Leaves is a quaint restaurant located in Blackrock Market. The decor is pared back and simple. A bright dining room is set a few steps away from the open kitchen where I can just about spot Chef Thomas tirelessly working away.
Chef Santosh Thomas (whom everyone calls Thomas) was recently named the best chef in Dublin at the Irish Curry Awards, a much-deserved accolade for the chef who is able to transfer his passion for Indian cooking onto each plate he serves. The menu changes daily and is astonishingly good value – €25 for three courses, with a few dishes priced at an extra €2.50. This will certainly leave your wallet and appetite feeling full.
To begin I asked Thomas’ wife Milie, who is attending to each table almost singlehandedly in expert fashion, for her recommendations. She swayed me towards the Patrani Maachi (€2.50). This dish of mildly spiced sea bass wrapped in banana leaf is the ideal start to the meal. Light and full of flavour, with flaky fish that is lovely and tender. There is a layer of creamy coconut and spices which don’t overpower the delicate fish but add an extra depth.
My dining guest opts for the Aaloo Chat with Golgappa. A pretty looking dish came out with fried potatoes and sweet date chutney served with puffed pani puri and Thomas’ signature sauces. Pani Puri is an Indian street snack that consists of a crisp outer shell of semolina, usually filled with chickpeas, potatoes, spices and chilli.
The evening is especially hot and Chef Thomas had carefully thought about this when making these little flavour bombs. Instead of the usual hot filling, he had used a variety of sauces to create a cooling treat which was very much welcomed on such a humid evening.
Milie asked us to eat the puri in one bite, to avoid any mess but to also get the mix of flavours. I was very intrigued and unsure as to what to expect, but soon my fears vanished and were replaced with a broad smile. At first, I am hit with the cool sauces and their creamy texture, then suddenly I get a wonderful tangy flavour, then sweet and a mild heat finishing off this heavenly bite.
Thomas has the ratio of each sauce spot on here; yoghurt, mint, tomato, tamarind and mango all very much recognisable in their own right, but melting together for a stellar combination of flavours.
For the main course, I can’t resist the Taster Menu (€2.50). Here you get to sample a selection of curries, which is perfect for someone like me who loves to try a little bit of everything. A variety of four curries arrive at my table, bringing with them colour and aromatic scents.
These are a Butter Chicken Masala with diced chicken marinated in mild spices, a vegetarian Chickpea Curry with a crunchy toppings, a completely moreish Lentil Curry and Khubani Gosht made with slow-cooked beef with aromatic spices. The Butter Chicken was an instant hit; rich and creamy with spices that were warm and inviting and not a bit overpowering.
Personally, I think the dish with the most heat is the beef curry, definitely spicy but the beef is soft and tender. Surprisingly for me (a devout meat eater), my favourite of all the curries was the chickpea curry. I love the texture of the dish and Thomas has managed to make a simple ingredient like chickpeas into a wonderfully tasty dish.
Across the table, my guest chooses the Khubani Gosht, a full sized version of one of my taster curries. Our main courses came with sharing sized portions of bread and “rainbow rice”, as it is aptly named.
I think a lot of us would admit to being a little uneducated about Indian desserts. Sure we can all rattle off our favourite curries, but when it comes to the sweeter treats we often draw a blank. After sampling the dessert dishes at 3 Leaves, I can’t believe I’ve been missing out on a whole world of flavours.
There are two desserts on offer so we ordered both. The first is Aamraz, a vibrantly coloured dish of sweet mango pulp garnished with fresh strawberries and raspberries. The sweet fruit dessert that is so fresh and light is the perfect end to a spice-fueled meal.
The second sweet treat is called Malai Makhan. A dish traditionally made by leaving sweetened milk to ferment on the roof of a house, here Thomas has found a way to recreate this dish in his little kitchen by churning sweetened milk and flavouring it with saffron, rose petals and flaked almonds.
Saffron isn’t the first ingredient that comes to mind when you think dessert, but in the right quantities, it can be incredible, like in this case. The dish is light, delicate and you can taste the soft hum of saffron in the background.
We tried each dish on their own and both were lovely, but I drizzled a little mango purée over the churned cream and I was blown away. The fresh mango mixing with the rich cream was a match made in heaven!
In total for three courses for two, the bill came to €55.00. It’s BYOB at 3 Leaves so you can bring your favourite tipple and eat and drink very well here for a bargain price.
I completely love the vibe here. It’s laid back and unassuming but it’s what’s on the plate that makes this place shine. Every table in the restaurant is full and after you eat here you’ll understand why. For dinner sittings, bookings are essential. My advice is to book your table now and don’t deny yourself this symphony of flavour any longer.
For my next visit, I’m thinking a few cold beers, another taster menu of curries and I’m excited to see what delicious Indian desserts will be on offer.
Unit 30, 19A Main Street
T: +353 87 769 1361
REVIEW BY SINÉAD SMYTH