It doesn’t seem adequate to describe Santosh Thomas as a chef.
True, he is the chef-proprietor of 3 Leaves, which he runs with his wife, Milie, a little tangle of rooms in the Blackrock Market. The number of rooms has expanded gradually as Santosh and Milie have won an audience. And that audience is devoted: queueing quietly and patiently on a Sunday afternoon as they wait to get a table, despite the fact that there are several other places to eat in the market complex.
No matter: what the 3 Leaves devotees are prepared to wait for is a style of cooking that is alchemical.
Santosh takes simple foods – lentils; chickpeas; lamb; mint; rice; pomegranates; beef – and aligns them in such a way that he turns base ingredients into culinary gold. 3 Leaves food is mesmeric.
Santosh seems to have taken the quotation from the Bhagavad Gita, which they feature on their website, as his culinary mantra: “Such foods are juicy, succulent, nourishing and naturally tasteful.” Taste the chicken biryani, and it is: juicy, succulent, nourishing, and naturally tasteful. There is no artifice here; the mesmer comes from culinary skills and deep knowledge, and Mr Thomas knows how to align his spicing in order to propel a dish to culinary incandescence.
And it’s all great fun: pop a pani puri in your mouth to begin the meal with a classic example of Indian street food, The crisp lattice of the puri shatters and suffuses your sense with the flavours of chickpeas and the mint flavour of the pani. Order the thali plate of various curries, and the flavours careen from the sweet and sour tickle of khatte dahl to the rich depth of chicken bemisal, with the curries playing ping-pong with piquancy.
Milie’s service is just as mesmerising as her husband’s cooking. Efficient, patient, charming, helpful and delightful all at once, she animates the room, and makes everyone feel special. 3 Leaves lifts us up.
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