Restaurant Review: Ministry of Crab, Colombo in Sri Lanka
Leading travel and food writer Kaspar Chambers enjoys Sri Lanka’s most sought-after restaurant.
Not many culinary establishments can boast themselves to be the best across an entire country. Ministry of Crab, voted No 1 in all of Sri Lanka by the ‘Asia’s 50 best restaurants’ list, is fast becoming an international food icon, with one ingredient driving this remarkable success: insanely good Crab.
With the backing of local cricketing legends Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, head chef Darshan Munidasa created Ministry of Crab with the intention of showcasing his homeland’s finest seafood produce, and the delectable brown crab as the centrepiece.
Due to the burgeoning demand for shellfish in the East-Asian market, Darshan realised almost all of the crab fished in Sri Lanka’s waters was making its way onto the tables of Singapore, with only the second rate crustaceans left behind. Darshan and his team fought to change this by celebrating their native species at home, in the place where they’re caught.
For those uninitiated in the customary ordered chaos of cities in the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka’s capital city of Colombo seems an unlikely spot for a standout fine dining experience from first appearances.
And indeed, Ministry of Crab is not a typical michelin-starred establishment: Certainly don’t expect stuffy air-conditioned dining rooms or white table cloths. The restaurant is set in the beautiful open air structure of a colonial Dutch hospital, and true to the original building, relies on the sea breeze to flow through its ancient rafters and cool the guests within.
When stepping into the longhouse, it’s clear that this place is serious about crab. Even the tables are adorned with flowers specifically chosen to look like claws. We take a seat and marvel at the ingenious crab display above the kitchen, which lights up to show which sizes of crab are available to order from the day’s catch ( here, you’re expected to order your desired quantity of crab by the kilo! ).
Darshan greets us personally, starting us off with one of his signatures: oysters marinated in a delicious aged soy sauce, served in a shooter glass with homemade hot sauce on the side. Attempting to elevate oysters with more than a squeeze of lemon will raise the hackles of many purists, but these were undeniably scrumptious and so moreish.
Before the crabby main event, chef shows off a couple of gargantuan Sri Lankan prawns, cooked Asian-style in a buttery, chilli and garlic sauce which I couldn’t help from mopping up with their traditional spongy bread, delivered each morning by local street vendors.
Now for the dish worth flying halfway round the world for. The Ministry sources some of the largest brown crabs in the world, with weight categories ranging from “half kilos” up to monstrous “crabzillas” at well over 2kg. We settled for something modest, somewhere between “jumbo” and “colossal”.
There’s a noticeable sense of grandeur and wonder that fills the restaurant when one of these red giants comes fresh from the kitchen. Everyone’s eyes follow with awe, longing to be the lucky recipients.
The crab comes beautifully presented: the legs protruding upwards in an inviting bouquet, and the shell conveniently cracked here and there to allow easier access for your own mandibles (eating with your hands is strongly encouraged). The taste – so sweet, so delicate, so plenteous – is something that goes beyond description.
Confident in superior quality of the crab ( they buy export-grade crab at inflated prices to ensure on only the best ) the chefs let the quality of the crab speak for itself. A light peppery sauce, though slightly offputting in colour, is the perfect vehicle to bring out the subtle variety of flavours that come from the different parts of the body.
If you’re planning a trip to Sri Lanka soon, Ministry of Crab should certainly be high up on your to-do list, and can arguably sit alongside the country’s other top attractions.
The quality of the shellfish to be had here is exquisite, perhaps the best in all of South Asia, owing to the pristine waters that surround the island. With Darshan’s growing international reputation and his restaurant empire going from strength to strength, keep an ear to the ground as there may well be a new Ministry of Crab opening up near you soon…
Located in: Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct
Address: Old Dutch Hospital, Fort,, Colombo, Sri Lanka / +94 112 342 722
*Images courtesy of Ministry of Crab