Ministry of Crab, One of Asia’s Best Seafood Restaurants, Opens in Manila
The Philippines being an archipelago, the bounties of the sea have always become a staple on Filipino tables, ranging from lutong bahay to the dampa-style eateries, and now the popular boodle fights at family outings. Foreign seafood concepts have also come in, with the latest iterations being the seafood boil bags. Now, there’s Ministry of Crab, the upper-crust way of enjoying local crustaceans that has just opened at Shangri-La The Fort.
The restaurant which is consistently hailed as one of Asia’s Best in the S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna list is an import from Colombo, Sri Lanka, where it is located in a 400-year-old building that used to be a Dutch hospital. The house specialty, as the name suggests, is crabs.
There are several crabby items on the menu, including a Baked Crab starter, which has the velvety texture of a risotto with generous crab bits. This is especially good for those who do not want the hassle of dissecting the crustacean to get to its crux. Those who want a more Filipino flavor can order crab sisig and ginataan.
Chef Dharshan Munidasa the prominent restaurateur and chef who founded Ministry of Crab, has Sri Lankan and Japanese roots and an Engineering background. Since he gained his culinary expertise not from schooling but from actual eating, he practices simplicity of flavors and techniques–something that slow cooking enthusiasts will appreciate.
His starter of Clams are our halaan, with the innate sweetness of the shellfish meat stewing in a butter and soy sauce. The Garlic Chili Fresh Water Prawn, is a Ministry of Crab original–a ginormous wok-fried prawn with Italian olive oil, garlic, Sri Lankan chili flakes, and Japanese soy sauce. (For both dishes, have that basket full of freshly-made, lightly-toasted Kade bread on the ready, to mop up the shellfish juices – you’re welcome.)
Of course, the star of the show is the giant crab, which is ordered by weight, and with the biggest weighing in at 2 kg. The Pepper Crab is alimango, cooked with Sri Lankan peppercorns hand-crushed by their traditional miris gala implement, whole peppercorns and a pepper stock. One would think that it would be a fiery dish akin to the chili crab of Singapore, but it has a milder note, with a bouquet of flavors other than just anghang.
If the heat starts to build up, we recommend cooling off with the drinks selection that includes a nice Ceylon Spritz (Peach Tea Syrup, Dry Vermouth, and Sparkling Wine) or the palate-cleansing Kandy’s Loot (Raspberry and Juniper Berry, Fresh Lemon and Ginger Ale served with skewered raspberries).
With the whole crab dishes, one should be ready to get down and dirty, as you will want to dig into all the crab crevices and crack those huge meaty claws. The restaurant is more than prepared for that, as waitstaff hand over bibs, wet hand towels, and finger bowls. It was a treat to see the well-heeled crowd at the restaurant’s preview digging into the crabs with gusto, starting with utensils at first, then giving in and using their hands–that is how good the crabs were, instagram-reputation be damned. Besides, you can’t be truly Filipino without eating seafood kamayan-style, right?
To end the meal, there’s a really moist chocolate cake served with caramelized banana, pistachio kulfi (traditional Indian ice cream), cashew, and biscotti.
Munidasa, who founded Ministry of Crab along with cricketing legends Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, says that much like his Colombo concept, it is his advocacy to have Filipinos enjoy the best local seafood which is ordinarily exported overseas. He says his seafood ingredients are fresh catches. There is no frozen crab meat to be found in his kitchen, which is why the crabs they use are fresh, chosen from six different suppliers in the Philippines. He reasons, “If you keep the crabs too long, they will get thinner. Then, if they die, they release ammonia, which will make them turn bad very quickly.”
In connection with his concept, he also shares his concern for protecting our seas from pollution. “There are no definitive studies about the effects of pollution and overfishing on crab supplies, but we are also calling on legislation in Sri Lanka to stop catching and exporting 300 gram crabs to keep them in the water, and of course, it is also important to not pollute the planet, especially our oceans with plastics that eventually end up in our food chain.”
Ministry of Crab, which is located at Shangri-La The Fort, 30th Street, corner 5th Ave, Taguig, is open for dinner, starting 6 pm. For more information, call 820-0888 or follow @ministryofcrab.manila and #ministryofcrabMNL