As the Ministry of Crab celebrates its third anniversary, Chef Dharshan Munidasa speaks of what it takes to keep a restaurant with uncompromising principles running.
Since its opening at Zaveri House, Khar, the three-level Ministry of Crab has beckoned several seafood lovers with its unparalleled quality. The idea of a restaurant championing Sri Lanka’s legendary lagoon crab or Mud Crab germinated during the filming of Chef Dharshan Munidasa’s TV show ‘Culinary Journeys with Dharshan’.
Today, it has spawned into a full-fledged restaurant recurrent on the prestigious Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list, with multiple outlets across the continent. The brainchild of Chef Dharshan Munidasa alongside Sri Lankan cricketing legends Mahela Jayawardane and Kumar Sangakkara, the restaurant has consistently delivered the best crab one can find without compromising on principles.
On my first visit to the Ministry of Crab, it’s the stately confines of the Art Deco bungalow that immediately arrests you. The high ceilings and muted colours are both comforting and contemporary at once, setting the stage for a delicious meal.
Given their rigid constitution, you know that freshness is of utmost importance here. The kitchen famously employs a no-freezer policy, serving you only the best (and non-farmed!) produce made with the highest quality ingredients.
Crab is indisputably the star on the menu. While the signature Chilli Crab, Pepper Crab and Baked Crab are no-brainer orders, the King Prawns, fresh Clams and Oysters are in a league of their own too. Complementing the foundation of the Colombo outlet, the Mumbai joint also has the old favourites, namely, Crab Curry, Clay Pot Prawn Curry, and Chicken Curry Rice. That aside, the elaborate and luxurious bar has also whipped up some delicious new concoctions, perfectly complementing the flavours on your plate.
In conversation with Chef Dharshan Munidasa, one is immediately in awe of his passion and dedication to serve nothing but the best. Having founded both Nihonbashi and Ministry of Crab – two of Sri Lanka’s most successful restaurants – his humility is striking as he refers to the team as ‘merely messengers of great ingredients.’ With two of the three years for the outlet being bogged down by the lockdown, it didn’t really stand a chance against the chef’s creativity and experimental nature.
From a uniquely interesting Crab Biryani, a brand new nibbles menu to the impact of the Sri Lankan crisis, there’s a lot on the chef’s mind and plate. And a lot for Ministry of Crab guests to look forward to!
As the restaurant completes three years, tell us a little bit about the learnings and challenges along the way?
Unfortunately, of the three years, two were during the pandemic, which brought about its own challenges, causing the team at Ministry of Crab Mumbai to change gears multiple times, switching between dine-in and delivery. However, our franchise partner Gourmet Investments Private Limited (GIPL) has been agile to adapt to the change. Our key challenge has been in terms of procurement, because getting the best crabs of India to be plated up in India is an absolutely novel concept for restaurants and suppliers alike. We had to convince suppliers to part with their export grade crab for us and that took a while.
Why did you pick Mumbai to set up the restaurant?
Mumbai, I believe is the most cosmopolitan city in India and everyone has a more dynamic outlook to cuisine. With so many different ethnicities arriving at the crossroads called Mumbai, I think it opens up the city to multiple palettes, giving vibrance to the dining scene, which Ministry of Crab Mumbai is happy to be part of.
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As the Sri Lankan crisis continues, do you envision any challenges for the restaurant?
Sri Lanka’s crisis has created multiple challenges for all industries, and the level of challenges are unprecedented. The new interim government is on a mission to find stability and over the next few weeks a possible solution to ensure that basic necessities such as fuel, gas, electricity and essential goods should be available. Despite all these issues it is amazing to see tourists at the Ministry of Crab, Colombo even today!
What has primarily inspired your style of cooking, and how would you say it’s evolved over the years?
Primarily my cooking style is inspired by ingredients, which is characteristic of “washoku”, where ingredients play a vital role in deciding what to cook, what to serve and how a dish is served. It has evolved over the years with my knowledge of each ingredient. Knowing the ingredient better and deeper has allowed me to experiment with textures and flavours, plating up dishes like the Crab Liver Pâte.
Tell us a little bit about what goes into procuring the freshest ingredients?
To procure the freshest ingredients one has to know the habitat of the species we are trying to procure, the anatomy of the species and their diet. In the case of Mud Crab we need to know how they are caught, sorted, packed and delivered to us, as all of these steps will determine the quality of the crabs that we receive.
What has been the most challenging dish to create?
The Crab Biryani. We had to respect the methodology of traditional biryani, while celebrating the unique flavour of our Mud Crab, and finding the right balance so that it would not be overpowered by spices.
What is one ingredient apart from seafood that you can’t compromise on?
Salt. Salt is probably the most important element to amplify flavours and this is one ingredient that I find very difficult to source, in terms of good products around the world. Being on an island we are extremely lucky to have access to amazing sea salt. The salt used in my kitchens goes through an extra step in the production process that results in a higher concentration and greater sweetness in the salt. I ensure that we place this salt in our restaurants around the world and carry it with us for all our pop up events.
What goes into making the restaurant one of Sri Lanka’s best?
Hard work, attention to detail, a great team who deliver the most amazing dishes every day.
Any exciting new dishes diners can look forward to?
We will soon be introducing the Crab Biryani at Ministry of Crab Mumbai and I think it will be a good addition to the repertoire we currently have.