Ministry of Crab

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Photographs: courtesy Chope
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Photographs: courtesy Chope
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Photographs: courtesy Chope
231 Nanjing Xi Lu
‘Keep calm and crab on’ read the papery black bibs we’re donning. It’s hard to take anything seriously in a bib, but at Ministry of Crab, crustaceans are serious business.

The first international outpost of the World’s 50 Best Restaurant-ranked Sri Lankan restaurant from chef Dharshan Munidasa and cricketing heroes Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara sits nestled in the greenery of People’s Park on the ground floor of Barbarossa. On sunny afternoons, light streams in through floor-to-ceiling windows, reflecting off the dining room’s black-and-white tiled floors. Servers dressed in black, with white bowties and accents, ferry plates of crab to white marble-topped tables.

You’re here to eat crab, as the name suggests. The menu echoes the Colombo original closely, with ten options of sizes for your crustacean. The smallest clocks in at around a 500g for 288RMB while the ‘Crabzilla’ is a two-kilo behemoth for 1,988RMB. (Call ahead if you have your heart set on a certain size as availability varies day to day – on one visit only XL and bigger were on offer, while on another, only the more petite of the range could be ordered.)

Decide on size, then preparation. Four primary styles prevail: pepper crab, chilli crab, curry crab and garlic chilli crab. The crab flesh itself is rich and tender, complemented by sauces you’ll later mop up with cubes of soft white bread. A delightful marriage of olive oil, soy sauce, Sri Lankan chilli flakes and garlic, the house signature garlic chilli crab is luscious and easy to imagine drizzled on everything.

The kitchen offers another tier of preparations, too, like garlic crab (a non-spicy version of the garlic chilli crab), garlic pepper crab (which swaps out the Sri Lankan chilli flakes for black pepper) and Sichuan peppercorn crab (a China twist). Or go minimalist with butter crab (‘best served chilled, with warm butter’ advises the menu, with the caveat that six hours’ notice is needed).

Prawns also make a formidable appearance, in a similar assortment of sizes (topping out at the 500g ‘Prawnzilla’) and cooking styles as the crab. An excellent claypot prawn curry (138RMB) arrives with a half kilo of two varieties of prawn swimming in a redolent, layered curry with a kick of spice, perfect for sopping up with bread or spooning over garlic fried rice (38RMB).

Dessert is pleasant. But while a pyramid of almond nougat ice cream with strawberry coulis covered in toasted meringue (58RMB) and a lemon passion fruit custard tart (58RMB) neatly tie up an intensely savoury, punchy meal, it’s filler at this paean to crustaceans. It’s all about the crab here, and that’s certainly not a bad thing.

Meal for two: around 1,200RMB (although this varies depending on what size crab you order)

By Cat Nelson
Venue name: Ministry of Crab
Contact:
Opening hours: 11am-11pm daily
English address: First Floor, Barbarossa, 231 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Huangpi Bei Lu, People's Square Park, Huangpu district
Chinese address: 黄浦区南京西路231号人民公园内人工湖,近黄陂北路