Sunday, 26 June 2016

Ministry of Crab, Colombo

We have been making an effort to tick off Asia’s top 50 restaurants when we travel together. So far we have done quite well in Singapore, Bangkok and Delhi – pity we missed out on Indian Accent though (here’s the side order of spitefulness you requested earlier). We planned one evening in Colombo for our 11-day trip in Sri Lanka, and the only agenda item was to have dinner at Ministry of Crab.

Set in a 400-year old Dutch Hospital building, the bustling dining room was oozing a warm glow with its touches of bright orange. I know nothing about cricket, except they take tea breaks in the middle of a competition. So when he looked around the restaurant and seemed thrilled about the names and faces of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, I guess they must be famous. Thankfully that was the last time he mentioned cricket; his download of the NBA final showdown was much more elaborate.

Our excitement somewhat dampened when we were told that they only have the small and mini crabs in stock because of the weather, which is a shame as I was really hoping to get my hands on at least a jumbo size crab. Deep down I know they had shipped all the big ones to Singapore! We went for their original garlic chilli recipe and curry crab, then opted for two large fresh water prawns instead of the half dozen black tiger prawns, so we could try more flavours.

Chilli Prawns

Not as sugary as the Singaporean version, the Sri Lankan recipe was more balanced; the initial sweetness was quickly matched by the warmth of chillies. The heat didn’t attack our taste buds ferociously, instead the fragrance from the variety of spices danced with the lingering sweetness, creating a depth of flavours. The prawn was meaty, succulent and full of bounce, with a massive head that was packed full of roe and oceanic goodness.

Butter Soy Prawns
This butter soy sauce was exactly that, melted butter mixed with a splash soy sauce. Though it could rarely go wrong with butter and seafood, this was dangerously salty as the cooking condensed the sodium concentration, not to mention a tad lazy. 

First meal since we landed at midday, we were already half way through our kade bread, mopping up the chilli prawn sauce.

Garlic Chilli Crab: Ministry of Crab original where Mediterranean and Japanese food philosophies meet Sri Lankan crab
I felt this was an improved recipe of the butter soy sauce above. The oil and soy sauce base was blended with chopped garlic and chilli flakes, mingled with the distinctive oomph from the crustacean shell. That said, chef could rein in on the salt again.

The crab was no Hulk, but it wasn’t too puny either; the pincers were stocky enough to grant a satisfying mouthful of sweet, juicy crabmeat, and makes the scraping of its smallest legs worthwhile.

Curry Crab
The traditional Sri Lankan curry arrived in a tagine. This must have been a female crab, seeing it had much smaller claws; the MoC suggests male crabs for meatiness and female ones for sweeter flavours. The roe dissolved in the aromatic curry, adding richness and intensity to the flavours. However this wasn’t as good as the garlic chilli crab - perhaps the pungent curry overpowered the delicate sweetness of the crabmeat, or I just don’t like this curry, prefer a creamier / coconut milk based sauce. 

KanKun Garlic
The vegetable on the side was more of an afterthought, it was stalky, chewy and salty.

We shared the chocolate biscuit pudding. Meh.

We enjoyed our dinner at Ministry of Crab, despite the absence of giant crabs. The flavours were vibrant with a good flair, perhaps a bit too heavy-handed on the salt, but we found Sri Lankan food generally over-seasoned throughout our trip. The ambience, though, was odd. We were one of the three couples at the restaurant, the rest of the dining room was occupied by a Chinese tour group, followed by another at second seating. Of course everyone is entitled to their restaurant experience, it’s just less usual to have large tour groups in top 50 establishments.

I remain undecided with MoC. Perhaps I feel I haven't seen the best that they have to offer; there would have been much more wow-factor with a crabzilla. All in all, I'm glad to have visited, but I feel content to stick to crab dishes in Singapore.

Old Dutch Hospital
Colombo 01
Sri Lanka
Tel: +94 11 234 2722

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