The year of the CRAB
- Get your bibs out for a meal at the newest outpost of the award-winning Sri Lankan restaurant Ministry of Crab
- Ministry of Crab hopes to secure a niche by offering a Sri Lankan experience, with a hint of Japanese influence
"For me, plating a crab comes from the idea of a tea ceremony," says chef Dharshan Munidasa. Hard as it may be to imagine such a comparison, Munidasa is referring to the Japanese art of plating that he brings to his crab dishes.
On 10 February, the popular Sri Lankan restaurant, Ministry of Crab, opened its doors in Mumbai, a much awaited event ever since its launch announcement last year. The Colombo-based restaurant has ranked among Asia’s 50 best restaurants for the last five years and the Mumbai outpost is the third international outlet after Shanghai and Manila. The anticipation is high and the restaurant is fully booked for the first 10 days.
Much of the original menu from Colombo has been retained. The biggest draw is obviously the “crab centric" menu; the signature dish being Garlic Chilli Crab. There are ten sizes which go right up to a 2kg “crabzilla".
The menu has been designed by Munidasa, a self-taught expert and a noted name in the culinary world. Born to a Japanese mother and a Sri Lankan father, his vocation as a chef reflects his mixed parentage. He has been synonymous with Ministry of Crab since he joined hands with cricketing legends Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara to open it in 2011. The menu reflects his Japanese roots, with dishes such as Kani Chahan (a Japanese-style crab fried rice), and focuses on top quality produce.
In a coastal city where there is no dearth of seafood experiences, ranging from affordable Malvani kattas and Goan eateries to fine-dining restaurants, Ministry of Crab hopes to secure a niche by offering a Sri Lankan experience, with a hint of Japanese influence. Munidasa points out that the menu hasn’t been customized to suit India’s coastal flavours. Here you can’t aspire for a masala or tandoori crab. The flavours are light and fragrant, intended not to overpower the delicate sweetness of the meat. The only addition to the menu is a small selection of vegetarian options, such as a Goan Curry and Wok Tossed Greens, introduced specially for Mumbai.
Munidasa says, “Restaurants like ours are invited to open in Mumbai (by local partners) because they want to do something different. If we try to cater to the same palate as what other restaurants are doing, then we are not bringing anything unique here. We also want to give people the same experience they sought when in Sri Lanka." He recalls the time that he experimented with a “Shanghainese Crab", made with peppercorns, in the Shanghai outlet. It didn’t work. “It was too familiar to the local market," Munidasa says.
Incidentally, the only Sri Lankan ingredients in the kitchen are the spices. Everything else is locally sourced. Even kade bread, a Sri Lankan staple, is supplied by a local Parsi baker.
Munidasa says, “Sri Lanka and India have something in common. All our best seafood leaves our shores." Ministry of Crab will serve local, export-quality catch, the kind that often ends up on menus in Singapore, Dubai or China. Bringing the same produce to tables in India obviously comes at a higher price point, especially ingredients like lagoon crabs that are not farmed but caught in the wild. The ingredients are always fresh, never frozen. Crabs are alive and kicking, and oysters rest on an ice bed.
Munidasa says this was the first lesson they shared with their business partners. Ministry of Crab has been opened in Mumbai with franchisees Ramit Mittal and Deepinder Batth of Gourmet Investments Pvt. Ltd, who say it involves an investment of about a million dollars. When we ask if the quality produce will reflect in the menu prices, they say it is much like handcrafted leather or champagne. So the answer is, yes.
Ministry of Crab is positioned as luxury casual, mainly because eating crab, with its shell, means you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. As Mittal quips, “Come on, this is a place where people have to wear bibs at dinner!"
Ministry of Crab is at 14th Road, Khar, and is closed on Mondays. Prices start from ₹1,995 for a K-kilo crab, ₹3,395 for medium size and ₹14,395 for the crabzilla.