Restaurant Review: 'Each main course is delightfully different and the desserts are a revelation'
Three Leaves, Blackrock Market, Main Street, Blackrock, Co Dublin; 087 769 1361
I spent my honeymoon in India, part of it on a houseboat on Lake Nagin near Srinagar in Kashmir. The family whose boat it was cooked for us in their home on the banks of the lake and delivered the food to the boat. We'd been looking forward to Kashmiri home-cooking, and were disappointed when the first few meals that arrived resembled the kind of dishes that you might expect to be served in a second-rate English boarding school. There were gristly chops and shepherd's pie and stew, recipes left over from the days of the Raj, but none of the fragrant curries that we'd been hoping for.
After a few days, we summoned up the courage to ask whether we might instead be able to eat the food that they were cooking for themselves, because even though we couldn't see it, it certainly smelt a lot better than what we were getting. For some reason they didn't want to do that (perhaps they thought it too humble?) but they did say that they would prepare some of the dishes that feature in a typical wedding feast. This sounded more like it. Unfortunately, though, our hosts turned out to be terrible cooks, and my memory of that much-anticipated meal is the lengths we had to go to to conceal the fact that we couldn't eat any of it. I'm ashamed to say that this involved throwing some particularly vile liver meatballs over the side of the boat, which can't have done much for the already compromised water quality of the lake.
I love India and I've been back since, eating spectacularly well in both Kerala and Mumbai, the latter thanks to recommendations from Sunil Ghai of Pickle on Camden Street, for my money the best Indian restaurant in Ireland.
I've been hearing good things about Three Leaves in Blackrock Market for a while now, initially from their neighbours Andrew Heron and Damien Grey of Heron & Grey.
The tiny restaurant has mainly a lunchtime trade - it's popular with people working in nearby offices - but on Thursday evenings you can book a table for dinner, so for the second time in as many weeks, I'm heading into the dingy market for dinner, having stopped off at Blackrock Cellar to pick up a bottle of wine to accompany the meal. Without knowing what we're going to eat, it's hard to choose, but the assistant points me in the direction of the Pittnauer Pitti 2015, an organic Austrian blaufränkisch zweigelt blend, that turns out to be a fine accompaniment. (Blackrock Cellar offers a 10pc discount to anyone buying wine to take across the road to Three Leaves.)
There's a short menu priced at €25 for three courses, with a choice of three starters, four mains and two desserts. Because there are three of us eating, we order everything. I've read that the restaurant is owned and run by Santosh and Milie Thomas, and Santosh is in the kitchen but Milie is not on the floor on the night of our visit.
First up is Aloo Ragada, described as mildly spiced potato patties with white peas and dressed with 'chef's signature sauces'. I know about these sauces - yoghurt, mint, tomato, tamarind, mango - from the @3leavesblackrock Instagram feed.
Chef Thomas (named best chef in Dublin at the 2017 Irish Curry Awards) makes them from scratch to add spicy, tangy, sweet, cool and refreshing notes, elevating each dish in turn. But there's a lot more going on on this plate than the simple descriptor implies, with all manner of crunch and flavour and complexity.
Tempered Lamb and Chicken with Ginger Radish Salad is substantial - in a different restaurant, this would be a main course - the slow-cooked lamb and marinated chicken served with a curried mayonnaise dressing, crispy boondi (made from fried, spiced, gram flour) and adorned with pomegranate seeds. The flavours are rich and multi-layered and it's becoming clear that the food at Three Leaves is far more intricate and ambitious than the modest premises might lead you to believe.
Our favourite starter, though, is the Dahl Puri, crispy puffed semolina balls stuffed with chickpea and yoghurt sauce and more deep-fried shards of crunchiness on top. There's usually a variation on this theme on the menu - be sure to try them.
For mains, there's Chicken Shahjahani - boneless chicken thighs in a rich cashew nut gravy; Gosht Falaknuma - slow cooked lamb curry in a yoghurt sauce; Butternut and Moong Dhal Masala, featuring green gram lentils in another rich gravy; and Paneer Soya and Aloo Ka Masala, a vegetable curry with house-made cheese, nuts and soya beans.
Each is subtly, delightfully different, but our enthusiastic waiter is so busy that we're not able to waylay him for a full interrogation. The two breads are exceptional - potato and a slightly sweet white turnip - and the jewelled rice just that, each colour cooked separately to preserve their integrity.
Desserts are something of a revelation - Semiya Payasam is toasted vermicelli cooked in milk, sugar and cardamom, with plump raisins and cashew nuts, while Mango Daulat Ki Chaat is mango churned with sweetened milk. Both are very good.
The bill for three, including that extra dish, comes to €85 before service.
9/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
The menu changes daily, so prices are not available online, but nothing at Three Leaves is going to break the bank.
ON A BLOW OUT
It is not possible to spend more than €25 per head, the charge of the three-course dinner served on Thursday evenings, unless you order extra dishes.
THE HIGH POINT
Unexpectedly sophisticated food tucked away at the back of Blackrock Market.
THE LOW POINT
On a chilly winter evening, Blackrock Market is challenging in terms of ambience.