Ministry of Crab, Colombo – supercrabzilladelicious
Claw cracker? Check.
Crab pick? Check.
Hair out of your face? Check.
Extra napkin? Check.
Sri Lankan guidebooks wax lyrical about white sandy beaches, beautiful temples, and rolling green hills. Whilst I was definitely excited about all of those, in all honesty the thing I was looking forward to most on our 3-week holiday was our dinner at Ministry of Crab. I’d heard about it when Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants were announced in March, and I just couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into it all!
Luckily, we’d planned to visit the restaurant on our very first day in the country, so after some sightseeing around Colombo Fort, haggling at the Pettah market, and a seaside drink, we made our way to the beautifully preserved Old Dutch Hospital just as dusk was setting in.
Ministry of Crab is the brainchild of Dharshan Munidasa, who also opened Nihonbashi in Colombo and The Tuna & The Crab in Galle (details of both those places to follow). In the aforementioned Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards, Munidasa walked away with two accolades; earning number 25 and 45 on the list for Ministry of Crab and Nihonbashi, respectively – the only Sri Lankan entries on the list. Ministry of Crab also organises frequent pop-ups, most recently in Bangkok, Singapore, and London (which took place in The Shard!). I had the good fortune to meet Munidasa at Ministry of Crab the evening we were there, and his gentle and friendly manner was in complete alignment with the atmosphere in every one of his restaurants. It’s no wonder he’s had such great success, and to me, a particular strength of Ministry of Crab is the focus on simplicity. High quality seafood, straight from the source, doused in simple, homemade sauces – what more do you need?
I loved the ambience at Ministry of Crab as soon as we walked in, as its elegance is in no way pretentious. The aesthetic is very well thought through, with crab-like elements pervading every aspect of the decor. Parrot beak plants masquerade as claws, and the golden-orange colours run from the waiters’ shirts through to the tables and walls. The chandeliers look a bit like tentacles, and overall the colours are slightly muted, which means the shining light is the crab itself (as it should be!).
As the name suggests, we definitely decided to focus on crab, but couldn’t resist the garlic pepper tiger prawns to start. If I were nitpicking (and I often do), I’d say they could have been done ever so slightly less. However, I’d like to emphasise that whilst they didn’t melt in my mouth, they certainly weren’t overdone, and the garlic pepper marinade shone through like a Sri Lankan sunset. It had me licking my fingers, and then my arms (I couldn’t waste any of it, now, could I?!). I’m so glad we had bread to soak up the rest of it, else I’d have been licking the plate as well!
We also had some pol sambal on the side, which was a bit spicy for our sensitive palates, but incredibly tasty nonetheless. Having said that, once the crab arrived, it became superfluous and languished at the edge of the table, unforgotten and unloved.
Ah yes, the crab. We ordered one ‘medium’ size each, and my eyes boggled when it arrived. If that was medium, I cannot imagine how big the ‘OMG!!!’ or the ‘Crabzilla’ would have been! The larger sizes are mostly ordered by big parties to share, and often as more of a gimmick, but we were satisfied with what we’d ordered, as it was just right for the two of us.
We were offered a cutlery tray so we could select our weapons of choice for the crab, and decided to skip the chopsticks, instead getting to work with the claw crackers and crab picks. The crab legs had been pre-separated for us, but other than that, it was up to us to get at the juicy tender meat, which was positively bursting out of every crevice. We were practically up to our elbows in the stuff, and it splattered in our eyes and onto my friend’s poorly chosen white T-shirt in the process. Dharshan actually came over to our table whilst we were eating the crab, and I couldn’t shake his hand as I was covered in crab juices!
The crab itself, and its succulent and soft meat, absolutely blew my mind. And then there were the sauces! We chose Dharshan’s signature pepper sauce as well as chili garlic. The pepper sauce tasted absolutely unique in its richness – Dharshan explained that it’s cooked together with the crab, ‘unlike the French’, he added in a slightly disdainful tone. This means there is no extra sauce after the dish is cooked, but luckily, the lashings of peppery goodness were generous, and so we had no need to top up. The chili garlic, too, was a winner, and the bread came in use again as we mopped up every last drop.
Ministry of Crab’s branding is absolutely spot on. I loved all the little touches, from the ‘Declaration’ and ‘Constitution’ on their website and on the menu, to the little crab stamp in the butter. The only unfortunate thing about the restaurant is that due to its location within the Old Dutch Hospital, it shares a bathroom with all the other restaurants, and as luck would have it, it’s all the way across the courtyard. It’s relatively clean, but not the most pleasant experience, even though the restaurant makes an effort to give you a little toilet bag set when you go. A slight damper on the evening, but it has absolutely no bearing on the food.
In case you haven’t already gotten the gist, Ministry of Crab is an absolute must-visit when you’re in Colombo. It’s not cheap, particularly not by Sri Lankan standards (the medium-sized crab works out to be around £30, the Crabzilla a hefty £130), but considering the freshness and quality of the seafood, I won’t hesitate to recommend it, particularly considering most of your other meals in Sri Lanka will cost under £5! Be sure to make a reservation in advance, bring a hair tie, and roll up your sleeves. Oh, and don’t wear white…
I was a guest at Ministry of Crab, but all opinions about the crabzillicious crabby crab are entirely my own.