Ever since his participation in the World Gourmet Festival in 2017 at Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai and the subsequent pop-up, gourmands have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of this restaurant which first opened in Colombo in 2011 and is owned by him along with cricketers Kumara Sangakarra and Mahela Jayawardene.
“Testing waters to get a perspective of where things could go was important, and that is what I was doing through these pop-ups last year,” he states simply. Working with the right partners is critical, according to him. “There was no question of a compromise.” He adds, “Gourmet Investments, one of the leading hospitality groups in India promoted by the Bharti family, seemed like the right people for Ministry of Crab. Ramit Mittal and Deepinder Batth (Joey) understood the food, my passion and what the restaurant stands for. We are all set to open here around May 2018.”
His entry into the world of food, when his father passed away suddenly 24 years ago, may not have exactly been serendipity, but Munidasa certainly turned it in his favour, by his sheer determination, hard work and passion. This magic touch is not something one can learn or inherit, and he is obviously blessed with it in abundance. The culinary maestro is the only Sri Lankan chef to have two of his widely acclaimed restaurants, Ministry of Crab and Nihonbashi, featured on the 2017 edition of the prestigious San Pellegrino Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Best known for his vibrant Sri Lankan dishes infused with the secrets of Japanese flavours, his take on the seafood produce that Sri Lanka offers is legendary. A strong proponent of the use of local produce in cooking, Munidasa frequently visits fish markets in search of the freshest catch. “I've also been to the Sassoon Docks in Mumbai at 6 am,” he confesses.
The Mumbai edition will take into account India's large vegetarian audience
His signature Black Pepper Crab and Chilli Crab will find a place in the menu of the Mumbai edition of this iconic Sri Lankan seafood restaurant. “The menu will be exactly the same in Mumbai. Only one or two dishes will be added keeping India’s large vegetarian audience in mind,” he avers. Known for his radical views about not wanting to alter menus to please guests, Munidasa is clear that diners coming into Ministry of Crab Mumbai, too, will know what it stands for, and that is what he will continue to serve. “The heart and soul of a restaurant remains in its dishes. You will be nowhere if you keep changing the menu to accommodate everyone,” he quips, matter-of-factly.
However, he is excited about working with young, local chefs in India. “They have vibrancy and are talented and enthusiastic — and that is what I need. Of course, I will bring them to Colombo for adequate training. Restaurant kitchens in India have too many layers, so maybe I need to do away with that and ensure there is someone who takes responsibility and executes,” Munidasa states with candour.
Ingredients are no longer his concern, as he is confident that his local partners will source export-quality crabs which are available in abundance in India’s coast and bring them to Mumbai. “They have dedicated teams who are going to do so. In the past, I remember smuggling otharo and wagyu to India,” he says with a smile. Local ingredients in Mumbai excite him, particularly the Bombay Duck. “I am waiting to challenge this Mumbai delicacy and cook it in my style,” he informs.
The Sri Lanka edition of The Ministry of Crab, lit up in the evening
He founded Nihonbashi in his early twenties, and spent the next 20 years ensuring it would become one of the best Japanese restaurants in the region. Alongside his two flagship projects, he recently opened The Tuna & the Crab, a hybrid Japanese and seafood restaurant, and Kaema Sutra, focusing on contemporary Sri Lankan cuisine, in partnership with actress Jacqueline Fernandez.
Ministry of Crab is a crab lovers’ haven, set in a preserved 400-year-old Dutch hospital in Colombo with a minimalist open kitchen format. It is now only a matter of time before sea food fans in Mumbai too, relish these delicacies.