Dharshan Munidasa receiving the S. Pellegrino Best Restaurant in Sri Lanka award
By Malik Gunatilleke
Two of Sri Lanka’s culinary hotspots, Nihonbashi and Ministry of Crab, were named two of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants last week at a grand award ceremony held at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa Island, Singapore.
The list was organised by William Reed Business Media and created by the Diners Club Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy, which consists of a group of over 300 leaders in the restaurant industry across Asia, each selected for their expert opinion of Asia’s restaurant scene. The results are a computation of votes.
Nihonbashi was on the list of esteemed Asian restaurants for the third consecutive year and was ranked 31 while Ministry of Crab entered the list for the first time at No. 43. Furthermore, Nihonbashi received the S. Pellegrino Best Restaurant in Sri Lanka award as well.
Owner of both restaurants Dharshan Munidasa was also one of just three others who were featured twice on the list while he was the only Sri Lankan to be awarded the honour.
At a special celebratory lunch held at Nihonbashi yesterday, Dharshan stated that he was truly proud of his team for their efforts in contributing towards creating unique dishes that were now being recognised the world over.
Talking to the Daily FT on the sidelines of the event, Dharshan expressed his excitement for the future of his restaurants and shared his plans on expansion.
“It’s great that Sri Lanka has two restaurants on this list. I’m even more honoured and happy that it’s what I created; two totally different genres. One is based on my background and the other on the famous Sri Lankan crab,” he said.
Asia’s top 50 restaurateurs at the award ceremony held in Singapore
The rise of Ministry of Crab
Dharshan highlighted the fact that Ministry of Crab was able to enter such a prestigious list of restaurants in just three years since its operations began.
“I was a bit shocked. There are only about seven new entries in the list, so one of those being from Sri Lanka is an amazing feat. Ministry of Crab is the only crab restaurant on the list, so technically we are more recognised than any of the crab restaurants in Singapore,” he said.
With a successful pop-up restaurant experience in Australia under his belt, Dharshan is now looking at expanding the Ministry of Crab’s portfolio in order to take its unique take on a Lankan staple to the rest of the world.
The right ingredients for success
As the only Sri Lankan to receive this honour, Dharshan highlighted the secrets to his success with his culinary ventures. He stressed on the importance of believing in a culinary vision and being uncompromising with the objectives of a restaurant. He added that one of the keys to his success was the fact that he made no concessions on using the best ingredients even at a higher cost.
“An important aspect is the use of the best quality ingredients available in the country. The use of these ingredients is evident if you look at the price structures. We are probably the highest in Sri Lanka. The Ministry of Crab exists simply because we use the best quality crab that is exported to Singapore. No one ever thought of it because it was too expensive,” he said.
Dharshan also pointed out that he had never been to hotel school or worked under any other chef adding that he was never restricted in the manner in which he went about his culinary adventures.
“Being restricted to a box is dominantly visible in other restaurants (in Sri Lanka). If you simply look at coffee shop menus from one end of the country to the other, it’s almost the same. That’s coming from the tourist hotel infrastructure which I think is so dated. A menu in Sigiriya should be different to one in Galle because the landscapes and colours are different.”
Adding to his success story
Apart from the two restaurants that were listed as Asia’s best, Dharshan is also behind Kaema Sutra which celebrates Sri Lankan cuisine and has gained mixed reviews from diners. He claimed that even though the restaurant was in its infancy, many had branded it a “rice and curry” restaurant.
“We are serving food that isn’t authentic. There’s a following that seems to understand our ethos and we’re doing some fun stuff. It has a culinary appeal. We are inspired by tradition but we introduce new techniques to take it further,” he said.
Unlike his other restaurants, Dharshan believes that diners are more opinionated about local cuisine, adding that it was never his aim to merely recreate dishes that were made in Sri Lankan homes.
His challenge, on this front, is to break the pre-conceived notions and expectations of Sri Lankan diners when it comes to Lankan cuisine and push the envelope on reimagining some of the beloved local dishes.
Dharshan also owns The Tuna & the Crab in Galle, which combines the cuisines of his two biggest successes and is garnering a following of its own.