Since the beginning of the year — in fact, since the last quarter of 2022 — I had made a promise to only write about drinks. Like all resolutions, and only because I made it through a few months, I am taking a break from it to discuss some food, but of course, also drink.
Recently, with the pandemic feeling like a distant relative who only visits occasionally, no matter how painful each surprise visit can be, many activities which we had nearly forgotten are now being revived.
Before bar takeovers became the rage, it used to be about chefs conducting pop-up restaurants in other cities to spread their message on gastronomy. Unlike a bar menu with a handful of drinks, replicating a food menu is significantly tougher. So, when Ramit Mittal, executive director and chairman of Gourmet Investments shared that he would be bringing the Ministry of Crab (MoC) experience to the capital for a week or so at the Shangri La, New Delhi, I was pleasantly surprised. Mind you, the fact that he and chef Darshan Munidasa, the famed and highly decorated chef from Sri Lanka who launched MoC (and there’s an equally interesting story about grit, daring and determination behind this launch but I will skip it today for lack of space), had managed to successfully open and run an outpost of Darshan’s award-winning and chart-topping eatery in Mumbai, one had come to expect only such acts of elan to be taken on and executed with much flourish. To quote Ramit, “Sourcing the hero ingredient and others around it has been the most challenging journey for MoC in India… being a brand that is always competing with other countries for this delicacy. But I am proud to say that when it comes to quality of ingredients, we are the best in India, and we offer the best crustacean experience to all our patrons.”
As someone who has worked long enough in the space, I had never thought one could (or ever would) eat fresh crabs in landlocked cities set far from any crab-yielding water body. And yet, the only freezers MoC deploys are in the garbage room to contain the stench of discarded shells before they are collected. Here, during the week-long gastronomic extravaganza, the cold rooms in the kitchen had been converted into crab-holds, which were being flown in daily for the diners.
Sadly, as Munidasa shared, “Despite Mumbai being a coastal city, the best seafood of India gets exported, and to serve such produce on Indian soil has been a challenge as the price points are dictated by international markets.”
And for the drinks part, the chef had started us off with a crab and avocado salad—all the flavour, none of the deshelling work—and it was perfectly placed to pair with a crisp mineral-rich Chablis, or even a glass of some bubbly, maybe from Tasmania or south of England. The main course comprised a rich peppery crab was more suited to a medium-to-full bodied red, say an Argentinean Malbec (chef’s recommendation) or a nice Cabernet mix or, for me, even more so, a Grenache-first blend. Sure, you can have a cocktail, too, and if this whole meal had happened beachside, not too far from where the crabs had been caught, I would have most likely stuck to beer. The Blanche de Namur is currently riding high on my list of favourites even if it isn’t as easily available. Else, locally speaking (and sourcing), there is always the ubiquitous and trusty Bira 91 White to fall back on.
And since I won’t revisit food for a while, let me share as I sign off that another great chef will be running a three-week long residency at the Hyatt Regency, New Delhi soon. He is in fact coming with his entire team to open the restaurant here while they shut down the original location in Bangkok for this duration. It’s only 30-odd covers a day; so, book early. Welcome Gaggan, see you over a glass of something fine soon.
The writer is a sommelier