Redefining Indian food in Ireland
What’s the story?
Three years ago, a little Indian food stall quietly popped up in Blackrock Market selling 'Indian Street Food'. Chef Santosh Thomas and wife Milie Mathew were the couple behind 3 Leaves, and very quickly gained a dedicated following for their pani puri, palak pakora chat and daily changing curries. Soon demand had overtaken supply, so they decided to take on the unit next door and put in enough tables to seat 12 people. These soon became some of the most difficult to get seats in town (not least because they only opened for dinner two nights a week), and in January of this year they knocked into the next one, giving them another 12 seats.
When talking to Dublin food obsessives, 3 Leaves comes up again and again as somewhere that's totally reinvented their idea of what Indian food is, and the fact that's it's BYO with a corkage charge of just €5 makes it ever more appealing. On a weekly basis we seemed to be met with abject horror when we admitted to not having tried it yet (we have actually tried numerous times to get a booking to no avail), so we thought we'd better make a serious effort to rectify that and hold onto our street cred for a bit longer.
Where should we go for a drink first?
Two reviews in a row in Blackrock and the pre-drink options aren't any more inspiring. For pints or a G+T head to Jack O'Rourke's on the main street, or for wine you could pay a visit to El Celler wine bar in the market itself. And if you need to pick up a bottle of wine for dinner head to Blackrock Celler where they'll give you 10% off if you tell them you're going to dinner in 3 Leaves.
Where should we sit?
Seating is limited and much of a muchness inside - you could ask for a view of the kitchen but most of it is obstructed by the pass. As summer approaches the outside tables are going to be the ones everyone will want, but we'd say getting your hands on one will be a mean feat. Definitely request one on booking if the weather's looking good, or get there very early and cross your fingers.
What's good to eat?
All the food. From start to finish we lost count of the amount of times we heard 'wow', from every table in listening distance (and ours), and there wasn't a low point from beginning to end. We were eating from a two-course menu with optional dessert (mandatory), but before any of the dishes came they brought out a dahi puri for everyone - thin, crispy, hollow balls made from semolina flour filled with chickpeas, potatoes and sauces including tamarind chutney and yoghurt. We were told under no circumstances to bite into it as everything would fall out, and although it's a sizeable chunk to put in your mouth in one go, as soon as it's in there it pops, and 'flavour explosion' is the only appropriate
descriptor. Of everything we had this is very much on the "best things we've eaten this year" list.
We tried all four starters and loved all of them, particlarly the lamb and the seabass. The chawpati chaat was a soft, mildly spiced potato fritter on a bed of chickpeas, with 'chef's signature sauces' (of which there are five, made fresh every day - taramind, mango, mint, yoghurt and Thomas' special signature sauce).
A galawat lamb kebab was meltingly soft with a really vibrant tasting salad of chickpeas, pomegranate, pea shoots and more of those sauces, all sprinkled with sev, that crunchy noodle type snack made from chick pea flour which adds a whole new level of texture to the dish and really takes things up a gear.
A sukha adraki chicken kebab consisted of boneless chicken thighs marinated with ginger and cardamom and served with those signature sauces, more pomegranate seeds and more sev. As far as we were concerned every dish could have been drowning in those same few elements and we would have left very happy.
Finally for the starters, a really delicately marinated fillet of seabass came wrapped in a banana leaf, with more of that crunchy salad, edible flowers and tiny dots of very mild wasabi yoghurt for the tiniest hit of spice. Perfectly cooked and perfectly balanced, both in flavour and texture.
For mains there were options of chicken or lamb curry, dahl, or a taster menu with a bit of everything, so there was only one choice. It also came with mixed vegetables (mainly potato, onion and green beans), and palak pakora chat - deep-fried spinach with sauces, pomegranate seeds and more of that sev, which was the highlight of the taster plate for us. That and the dahi puri have pretty much monopolised our thoughts ever since.
The other components were murg mumtaz (a creamy chicken curry), gosht falaknuma (slow-cooked lamb curry with more spice), muradabadi dhal (a creamy, deeply-flavoured yellow dahl), chickpea bread and rainbow rice - coloured with dehydrated spinach, beetroot, carrot and saffron. This was so much food for the price with so much going on in terms of tastes, textures and smells, and even though we ate ourselves stupid we didn't feel the usual fullness verging on sickness that we associate with eating mass amounts of Indian food. It really does feel like being cooked for in someone's house, the type of food they eat themselves on a daily basis - this is not the stuff of high street curry houses or uber eats deliveries.
Indian restaurants in Ireland aren't generally known for their desserts, so the temptation is to skip it, but we'd been told from past diners not to make that mistake, so we ordered one of each. A carrot halwa trifle somehow managed to get carrots to taste like spiced caramel, on an almost cheesecake like base, the sweetness diluted with just whipped cream. Pretty perfect.
The other of mango dulaat ki chat Milie described as "a cloud" - it's made from sweetened milk and mango and does quite literally feel like taking a bite of a cloud, the spoonful evaporating in your mouth as soon as it touches the sides, leaving behind tiny shards of candyfloss, which somehow manage to avoid being over sweet or in any way sickly in the grand scheme of the dish. A really unexpected, pitch perfect way to end an Indian meal.
And the drinks?
3 Leaves is BYO with a bargain corkage charge of €5 so it's a great place to bring a nice bottle that you don't fancy paying Dublin restaurant mark-ups on, and as we said earlier, Blackrock Celler will give you 10% off anything to take over there and will happily recommend wines to go with the food. We took an Austrian Riesling from Holzer (available in Clontarf Wines and Jus de Vine) which worked really well with the abundance of flavours and hits of spice throughout. They have applied for a wine list so are hoping to have their own short list of wines available too in the coming months.
What about the service?
Everyone who's been here leaves talking about how warm and welcoming Milie is, and she really is the perfect host, taking time to explain the meaning and make up of each dish, and constantly (but gently) checking if everyone is okay and enjoying themselves. Santosh also does a lap of the room after the main courses have been served, to say hi to everyone and answer any questions - and presumably get deluged with compliments on daily basis about how his cooking is so far from what they thought Indian food was. It's such an intimate space and experience and we think it would be hard to leave here without feeling rejuvenated on a few levels.
If you're someone who thinks Indian food means greasy baltis, chicken tikka masala (invented in Glasgow) and indigestion, you need to get yourself here as soon as possible. This will be an eye-widening experience for a lot of people, and after eating here it's very easy to see why they've gained such a following, and why people travel from across the city to sit in this basic room with market stalls outside the window. This is undoubtedly some of the best Indian food being cooked on the island right now and eating here should be on your restaurant bucket list.
Unit 30, 19A Main Street, Blackrock Market, Co. Dublin www.3leaves.ie