COCONUTS HOT SPOT — Sri Lankan cuisine is hard to find in Manila. Ask a Filipino where to score great Sri Lankan seafood fare, and you’ll probably get blank stares in response — which is why the buzz around Ministry of Crab’s opening in Shangri-La at The Fort has been pretty intense since its debut a month ago. The collective curiosity of Manileños has been through the roof, and we kept getting asked what the place had to offer Filipino diners.
Ministry of Crab was founded by Sri Lankan chef Dharshan Munidasa and cricket players Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. The restaurant, which opened in Colombo, Sri Lanka in 2011, has since gotten an impressive amount of praise — it placed 25th in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list last year, up from the 29th spot in 2017.
Coconuts Manila visited its newest branch at BGC last week, and we’re happy to report that the overall experience was solid, and made for a really nice introduction to Sri Lankan cuisine.
The building in which the restaurant is located is rather corporate-looking and lacks the dazzling lobby designs that Shangri-La hotels in Manila have become known for, but when you walk into The Ministry itself, the interior design game totally changes.
The interiors look like they were inspired by a ship (a luxe one) — shiny wood-paneled floors, super high ceilings, lots of softly dramatic spotlight lighting, and an impressive collection of tipples sourced all the way from Sri Lanka.
The bar is beautifully sleek. Lots of light-reflecting smooth leather and glass. The bartender was welcoming and friendly, too.
On to the food — we tried the Avocado Crab Salad appetizer (PHP750/US$14.38) — which, put succinctly, was the bomb. It looks simple enough: steamed crab meat served on top of a fresh slice of slightly chilled avocado. The meat was slightly spicy, but the seasoning didn’t overpower the natural sweetness of the flesh. The avocado served as the perfect foil to the lightly spiced crab meat.
To drink, we tried the homemade Ginger and Passionfruit Tea (PHP250/US$4.79), which was a really interesting concoction. Unlike other restaurant-served iced teas that are just sweet, this one was sweet but also had a zesty bite to it, thanks to plenty of fresh ginger flavor.
We also tried the Garlic Chili Crab (PHP1,800/US$34.52 for 1/2 kilo) paired with garlic rice (PHP350/US$6.71) and kangkong (water spinach) with garlic and egg (PHP225/US$4.31). The kangkong was cooked perfectly, retaining its juiciness with every bite. Also worth munching down is their garlic rice, which was obviously cooked with the good-quality grains. The garlic rice was great too — soft, savory, and with the right amount of garlicky punch.
Unfortunately, we were left underwhelmed by the main event.
The Garlic Chili Crab was served with a film of oil sitting underneath it, making it greasier than we expected. The crab itself didn’t pack much of a flavor punch, either. We were promised garlic (hey, it’s in the name) but could barely taste it in this dish. The shellfish was served cracked, which would make you think that the seasonings would really properly penetrate into the flesh — but alas, it was not so.
We also tried the Baked Crab, which sees crab meat broken down into chunks and served atop a bed a rice that’s similar in consistency to that of risotto (PHP850/US$16.30). It didn’t quite blow us away with flavor, either — it did carry a lightly tangy taste, but we were hoping that the crab would feature a bit more prominently than it did here. The creaminess of the rice sort of overpowered the meat itself, and was a bit too rich for us after just two spoonfuls.
For dessert, we sampled the agar-agar jelly with fresh Philippine mangoes (PHP375/US$7.19), which was divine: slightly sweet milk and excellent quality, perfectly ripened mangoes were served with the hotel’s own mango and rice cake ice cream.
Ministry of Crab does offer a solid overall package — beautiful interiors, a stylish bar, and an overall fine place to try Sri Lankan cuisine, especially for first-timers. Apparently most of the ingredients are sourced in the Philippines, too, so the foundational flavors here won’t come across as completely foreign to Filipinos.
However, it could also leave diners thinking that there’s more to Sri Lankan cuisine than what the restaurant serves — exotic spices and intense flavors aren’t quite the main draws here.
Note: Ministry of Crab is only open for dinner service, from 6:30pm to 10pm — so if you’re a distance away from Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig, then it’s very possible that you’ll hit some monstrous rush hour traffic on the way there. Plan accordingly.
Ministry of Crab is at Shangri-La at the Fort, Manila
30th Street corner 5th Ave., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City
Open Mon — Sun, 6pm to 10:30pm
Phone: +632-820 0888 and +632-8820 0888 (from March onwards)