Two of our favourite things combine in this one of a kind dining experience in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Degustation meets roaming dinner as we visit 3 world class restaurants tasting more than 10 dishes. One evening of foodie indulgence spanning 3 distinct cuisines and 2 out of 3 of Asia’s Top 50 Restaurants.
All of this along with plenty of fantastic wine to compliment the experience.
Profile of a celebrity chef: Dharshan Munidasa
Before we get started with the “Progressive Degustation”, a little background on the chef who made this all happen.
Dharshan Munidasa was not formally trained as a chef. His love of food stems from the other side of the equation – the eating. Two of Dharshan’s three restaurants in Colombo are featured in the prestigious Asia’s 50 best restaurants list. With Ministry of Crab listed at number 25 in Asia and number 1 in Sri Lanka (2016).
Dharshan’s upbringing is a mix of Japanese and Sri Lankan and that comes across clearly in all his food.
We’ll be eating at both Ministry of Crab, and his other top 50 restaurant, Nihonbashi (creative Japanese), as well as a 3rd stop at his contemporary Sri Lankan restaurant, Kaema Sutra.
This is a guy who understands flavour and is constantly fighting for perfection. This shows as he leaves our table regularly to inspect each kitchen of every restaurant we visit. This level of hands on management really shows in the food where every detail is controlled to ensure 100% consistency.
When it comes to ingredients, freshness is paramount. Famously, Ministry of Crab has no refrigeration. The crabs are 100% live, ready for the pot. Everything is brought in fresh each day. The size of the crabs will always depend on the catch. And the “bad” crabs have no place in the kitchen. They get sent back to feed the masses at Sri Lanka’s many street food venues.
If it’s not perfect, it doesn’t get served.
Dharshan’s commitment to creativity bring’s new twists on classic dishes as well completely inventive original cuisine – as we’ll explain in the menu below. Sometimes controversial, but always setting new standards in his own business.
“Driven” is the best possible word to describe Dharshan. As he explained, “I have one goal. To be on the cover of Time magazine. Every decision I make comes back to that goal”. And from over 20 years as a restauranteur, he’s clearly been guided by some good decisions.
Progressive Dinner (Roaming Degustation)
We are no strangers to degustation, but this is certainly a fusion of dining concepts that we have not seen or experienced elsewhere.
We’ll be moving from one of the best crab restaurants in the world, onto Japanese with a creative twist – cuisine that you won’t find in Japan. Then finally re-workings of some of the core Sri Lankan classics, like hoppers.
Ministry of Crab – Stop 1
The Ministry of Crab is located in Colombo’s atmospheric, 400 year old Dutch Hospital.
Awarded 25th best restaurant in Asia, and best in Sri Lanka. This is a world-class heavyweight in the seafood restaurant industry. Aside from often serving crabs weighing over 2KG, as a diner you are encouraged to see and take pictures of the open kitchen and can watch chefs literally battling giant crabs into the pan.
For a degustation, a slightly smaller crab is required. More on that shortly.
To warm up the palate, a simple but perfect preparation of clams. Butter, soy and clams. Let the fresh clams do the work, and just compliment the natural flavour with salt and fat. Perfect little morsels to get the appetite ready for the main event.
Garlic Chili Crab
Mediterranean and Japanese food philosophy meets Sri Lankan crab. And it meets it well. Italian olive oil, garlic, Sri Lankan chilli, Japanese soy sauce. The natural fats of these giant lagoon crabs also blend into the mix to create a luxurious bath for the star of the show – the crab itself.
Forgo any notions sucking flaky crab meat from tiny claws. This giant beast is full of delicious, buttery flesh. Importantly, the flesh stays in tact as you pull it from the shell. Not just the best crab I’ve tasted, also one of the easiest to eat. Your hands will still get greasy, that’s really part of the experience of getting involved with the food. But wow. Just wow.
Nihonbashi – Stop 2
Nihonbashi is Dharshan’s longest running restaurant – 21 years. With an absolute dedication to producing Japan quality cuisine, outside of Japan and even building on that to creatively innovate and even include Sri Lankan influences upon Japanese preparations – such as in their signature curry leaf tempura (Karapincha tempura).
Nihonbashi also intercepts Japan grade export tuna (European grade tuna not being of sufficient quality) before it is sent to the famous Tsukiji fish market in Japan.
We take our seats, surrounded by bamboo, in the outdoor yakitori lounge.
Sashimi N – Sea Bream
Delicately presented without wasabi. Just soy, sesame and additional salt. Some lime juice turns this almost into a ceviche. A good palate refresher as the first course.
Tomato Soup with Shredded Nori (Nihonbashi Tomato Soup)
This unique and creamy tomato soup has a secret ingredient. Or should I say, actually lacks an ingredient. The secret is, an omission of cream. Yet, a texture and flavour that hints of the presence of cream. In fact, each portion is hand whisked to aerate and creamify the simple blend of tomato, onion, soy and olive oil. Then topped with the shredded nori.
Originally destined to be a sauce for fish, it became a soup with a distinctly umami character.
Prawn hand rolls – prawn ten sabi temaki
It’s hard to choose a favourite from a night of so many dishes. But this could be it. The lightly tempered prawn, hand rolled in nori with wasabi rice. If ever a dish could be so perfectly balanced in every dimension, it could be this. The power of the wasabi subdued to just the right amount so as to appreciate its presence without overtaking the sweetness of prawn meat.
I could fly back to Colombo just for this… And perhaps eat some more giant crab whilst I’m there.
Vegetable seafood tempura – Kaki Abe Tempura
A perfect, light tempura batter creates this all in one seafood and vegetable bite. Dipped in the accompanying lime salt to intensify the flavour.
Toasted Garlic Rice Maki
Garlic rice wrapped in nori and presented on a hot stone. You can toast each side of the maki to form a crispy, garlic crust.
“Garlic rice is Japan’s answer to garlic bread”, Dharshan explained.
Olive Oil Kake Tai Cha
The table next to us, a group of Japanese tourists, got very excited when this dish was presented to them. Apparently this exact presentation is non-existent in Japan. Raw fish is placed over rice, with a raw egg yolk in the middle. Hot olive oil mixed with garlic is ladled over the egg and sashimi to very slightly start the searing process and seal the outside of the egg yolk. But the temperature of the oil is low so as not to affect the fish too much.
This is a creative table event that helps diners remember their restaurant experience.
Kaema Sutra – Stop 3
The name Kaema Sutra literally translates to “Art of food”. Housed in the old Colombo insane asylum, architectural history combines with contemporary cuisine.
Sri Lanka’s most famous dishes centre around big portions of carbohydrate – breads and rice. Fused with local spices. After many light protein courses, the finale of tonight’s roaming degustation will ensure no one leaves hungry. As if that was ever going to be a concern…
Hoppers are available on almost every Sri Lankan menu. The hopper is like a bowl shaped pancake made with rice flour. The base of the bowl is soft and thick, the edges thin, crispy and perforated.
The Euro hopper includes buffalo curd drizzled with olive oil. A completely new take on hopper fillings. These hoppers are also oversized, almost double the typical size you’ll find elsewhere, while maintaining correct texture.
Kottu Selection: Crab Kottu & Egg Kottu with Seeni Sambol
Kottu is shredded roti bread, fried and mixed on a hot plate with a selection of spices and protein or vegetables. It’s almost like a fried rice, but substituting rice for the roti bread.
The egg kottu (not pictured), a particular star for me personally. Why? I couldn’t put my finger on it. Asking Dharshan the secret, he replied “That’s the umami”. What other answer should I have expected from the Japanese Sri Lankan? The addition of the Seeni Sambol apparently adds to this tastebud mystery.
Stringhopper Kottu with Australian Mutton
Stringhoppers are a Sri Lankan style noodle made from rice flour. In this dish, shredded roti bread has been substituted with string hopper to make a stringhopper kottu. Surprisingly soft mutton and a great mix of Sri Lankan spices gave this dish a warmer, comfort food effect than the previous two kottu.
Where the egg kottu surprised with umami. This dish simply satisfied the palate with blended spicy warmth. And that’s a good thing.
Panniyata: dessert Hopper (AKA “What the hopper?”)
Finally, dessert is a unique take on oh so classic Sri Lankan hopper. It actually fuses a popular dessert with the normally savoury hopper.
To sweeten the dough, honey is used. This also leads to a darker brown colour and a crispier consistency. This is then topped with curd and treacle – a standard Sri Lankan dessert. The addition of fresh strawberries finishes the dish.
The original incarnation of this dish used cream instead of curd. This makes it too sweet. The use of whipped curd, makes the curd lighter and balances that sweetness creating a very satisfying finish to an incredibly diverse degustation experience.
Experimental Dining – The verdict
We were excited to be the very first ever guinea pigs for this unique culinary adventure. The experience is still under development and our exact food journey is unlikely to be precisely repeated. But, it is clear that with Dharshan at the helm, creativity and flavour will always be present, regardless of how the menu evolves.
Every dish is already a proven success in it’s own right. Now the most interesting future for this menu will be which dishes feature together, which leave, which stay and how each could be combined with an individual beverage pairing.
This meal is not currently on offer to the general public. But you can visit each restaurant and try the various dishes at your leisure. Bookings are generally essential.
Accommodation in Colombo
Visiting Colombo for food and fun? Find somewhere awesome to stay too.
One of the most essential elements of choosing the right hotel is the ability to get a fantastic and comfortable night’s sleep. We’ve stayed at a few OZO hotels now. The bed’s are so consistently comfortable and the curtains always blackout the room. No matter what timezone you flew in from, you are going to get good sleep, day or night.
OZO Colombo offers one of the most “ocean” of all ocean views we’ve had on our travels. A window full of waves! Incredible.
Plus, the curry at the breakfast buffet was genuinely great. One of the better curries we’ve actually had during our month in Sri Lanka. Also, all the usual international items, like bacon.
One of the biggest wins for OZO Colombo is the always popular roof and pool terrace. Grab a happy hour cocktail at sunset, take a dip in the pool, or just enjoy the incredible view of Colombo and the ocean.
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Other Colombo Accommodation options
|The Mangrove Hotel|
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Disclaimer: We received the roaming menu experience complimentary, all opinions remain our own. And that opinion is that it was yummy!