The “Ministry of Crab experience”

A chat with Chef Dharshan Munidasa

By Jennifer Rodrigo

Ministry of Crab’s latest accolade comes in the form of the restaurant making its way to Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants List for the fifth consecutive year. Sponsored by S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna, the award ceremony took place on 26 March 2019 at the Wynn Palace in Macau, where Ministry of Crab ranked no. 35.

Co-owner Kumar Sangakkara, commenting on the ranking, said: “We are extremely happy that Ministry of Crab has been able to surpass some of the best restaurants in Asia to rank on this reputed list and place Sri Lanka on the global culinary map.”

Curated by William Reed Business Media, which also publishes The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants was launched in 2013 and takes in six voting regions: India and subcontinent; South-East Asia – South; South-East Asia – North; Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau; mainland China and Korea; Japan. The list is voted on by the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy – an influential group of over 300 leaders in the restaurant industry across Asia, each selected for their expert opinion of Asia’s restaurant scene.

Co-owner Mahela Jayawardene shared: “We are proud to be recognised by this prestigious list and we are excited to be able to share the Ministry of Crab experience across the world.”

We caught up with Co-owner and Chef Dharshan Munidasa and here’s what he had to say about it all.

2019 seems like a great year for you and Ministry of Crab, your launch in Manila, the pop-up event in Sanya’s Atlantis Sanya, and now this – being ranked 35th in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019 list. How does your most recent accomplishment feel and what does it mean for MOC?

The first 100 days of 2019 has had a busy start with MOC opening restaurants in Manila and Mumbai, followed by pop-ups in Maldives and Sanya. The highlight was being recognised as one of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants and receiving the award in Macau. Unfortunately, we have no time to rest or celebrate as we have two more openings planned for the year and about eight upcoming pop-ups. This means that we’re constantly working hard to perfect the dining experience of guests visiting Ministry of Crab in Colombo, Shanghai, Manila, and Mumbai, and to ensure that our pop-ups are successful despite foreign conditions and unknown kitchens. It also requires a lot of travel on my part to ensure that the quality of the restaurants is maintained.

How has your most recent expansion to foreign shores pushed the boundaries of MOC? Any challenges you’ve encountered that you can share with our readers?

Opening restaurants in other countries is always a challenge. We’re dealing with different cultures, people, and procurement, but I think we were able to manage exceptionally well in Shanghai, Manila, and Mumbai because we work with partners who truly understand our ethos.

Have you done anything differently with your new restaurants in foreign shores?

No! Ministry of Crab is sought after because of who we are, and it would have been counterintuitive to change the menu for any reason. We did, however, add one or two local dishes in Shanghai, Manila, and Mumbai, but it’s still our signature dishes that guests come looking for!

Future plans? Anything interesting coming up in Sri Lanka?

Not much except ensuring that all guests continue to have an amazing experience in our restaurant. We will be expanding to Maldives and it will be a restaurant run by us with our own dedicated team to handle the operations, which we hope to open by September this year.

If you were to sum up MOC and its scope as a trailblazer in the industry, how would you do so?

Ministry of Crab is an amazing restaurant in terms of what it has become for us, to me, and even for Sri Lanka. We have definitely become the most sought-after restaurant not only by guests but also other hospitality institutions; to participate in pop-ups and bring the “Ministry of Crab experience” to their shores.

We didn’t do anything new; the crab always existed, it always went to Singapore, everyone knew that the best crabs were out there. We simply brought it back to the island, gave it a home, and institutionalised it, and we’re proud to have made that connection – Sri Lankan Crab, back in its home, in Sri Lanka!

We are also a restaurant that has no freezer and it was something many thought I would fail doing but has now become much appreciated as it indicates just how committed we are to freshness. I think that is one of the most trailblazing things I have ever done.