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14.02.2019

You might have heard that reservations at Ministry of Crab are difficult. In fact, they seem impossible. We tried over three days, calling from various numbers, supplying many reasons to give us a table, even enlisting concierge services, and we still got nothing for dinner at any time on the Tuesday evening we visited for this review.

What's the hype about? Dear reader, we'll try to explain with numbers. Chef Darshan Munidasa's Ministry of Crab's flagship, located in the 400-year-old Dutch Hospital in Colombo, opened in December 2011. In 2018, it was Number 25 on Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list, which also made it the best restaurant in Sri Lanka. The Mumbai branch is its fourth, after Shanghai and Manila, and is spread over 6,000 square feet and three levels. Mud crabs are served in 10 sizes, from half kilo to Crabzilla; prawns are served in six – with Prawnzilla being 500 grams or heavier. Ministry of Crab has been long anticipated by Mumbai diners, especially those of us who must have a meal there on every visit to Colombo.

So, this is what we did to get this review to you in time – we showed up and refused to take no for an answer. It worked. Eventually, we were seated along the smartly designed railing on the mezzanine, with a shelf that is deep enough for a single dinner plate. From here we could observe the very pretty room. Ayaz Basrai of The Busride Design Studio, who has designed the space (along with architects Komal Bhagtani and Karishma Arora) describes it as having a “woody modern tropical vibe.”

From our vantage point, we could also see several tables that were supposed to be occupied, but stayed empty through our two-hour meal. Indeed, there might be a touch of artifice at the moment to MoC's hype, a vacuous marketing tactic that's being employed by multiple Mumbai restaurants to make them seem busier than they are.

We dug into MoC's famous chilled crab and avocado salad of delicate meat stirred into mayo with a touch of wasabi, served in half an avocado, half of which was as crisp and woefully bland as an uncooked potato. The riper bits though, were full of good quality flavour. We also had a creamy, cold crab liver pâté, a paste of concentrated crustacean flavour, served with perfect squares of pressed toast and a shot of kithul, (fishtail palm) treacle. A drop of the syrup brings out the flavour of the spread – it's a perfectly balanced bite, but there is too little of the pâté for the piles of toast.

The crab is worth the hype. No matter the sauce (pepper, chilli, garlic chilli, butter, or curry) the meat is always glistening, sweet, and perfectly cooked. A small one (600 to 700 grams) makes an easy-to-share portion for two. It comes in the shell but dismantled, claws cracked, legs attached to large chunks of meat. Even so, this is not the place for a first date. It took us about half an hour to work through ours, licking our fingers every five minutes to clean them. We ended up with a pile of broken shells, and pepper sauce splashed across our bibs.

A big prawn of 200 grams looks like a small lobster, but eaten alongside a smaller salt-grilled “ebi shioyaki” tiger prawn cooked on charcoal, it confirms our theory – bigger prawns rarely match the depth or intensity of smaller prawns. The garlic chilli butter pooled on the plate is spoonable, even without a portion of cold and doughy kade bread.

The wait between dishes is tediously long (our very friendly server explained there has been a glitch in the kitchen), but also filled with bites of spicy, tangy pol sambol of grated coconut with onions, lime and chillies. Our dining companion has worked and lived in Sri Lanka, and when he has his first taste, he has one word: Finally!

Vegetarians can sample Goan curry, chicken lovers can try teriyaki – both are as good as the best in the city, but they're not what you'd go to MoC for. In fact, all things considered, does it make sense to claw your way to a berth at the Ministry at all? To sometimes shell out five figures for a decapod? Yes, but only after the hype dies down a bit, and reservations are less crazy.

We think this as we dig into dessert called The Story of Cacao, a Bounty bar for adults: coconut mousse encased in rich chocolate mousse moulded to look like a cacao bean on a bed of chilli-spiked chocolate soil. Spooning up chocolate, we can see the maitre d' shaking her head at resolute walk-ins. The empty tables under us are still waiting for guests.

Getting there: 442 Zaveri House, 14th Road, Khar West, 077108 98811, a meal for two with a drink each is approximately Rs 8,000. Currently serving beer and wine only, full bar to start soon.

bpb reviews anonymously and pays for its own meals.

Roshni Bajaj Sanghvi, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in NYC, lives in Mumbai and writes mostly about food and travel for many a publication. She’s a contributing editor at Vogue magazine, and her words have also been found in Conde Nast Traveller, Mint Lounge, Scroll.in, The Hindu, Saveur, The Guardian, and Travel + Leisure, among others. She's crazy about obscure ingredients, and she always knows where to go back for seconds. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at @roshnibajaj.

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