Underwater dining

A diver cleaning a viewing window at Under.
A diver cleaning a viewing window at Under. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Customers enter the restaurant Under onshore through a wood-panelled passage and descend a staircase into a dining room.
Customers enter the restaurant Under onshore through a wood-panelled passage and descend a staircase into a dining room.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A new restaurant, Under, on Norway's southern tip is an architectural showpiece that stretches 5m underwater

OSLO • Take a dive into great food and design. For the chef and diners alike, each meal beneath the waves at Europe's first underwater restaurant is a thing of wonder.

"We have this small window next to the kitchen and every time some special kind of fish comes by, I always start thinking about how it would taste," said chef Nicolai Ellitsgaard.

The aptly named new restaurant Under opened a few weeks ago in Lindesnes on Norway's southern tip. It serves Poseidon's delicacies in an architectural showpiece that stretches 5m underwater, offering a unique close-up of ocean life.

From the outside, the giant concrete monolith juts out from the craggy shoreline, while its other end tips down into the North Sea.

Customers enter the restaurant onshore through a wood-panelled passage and descend down a long staircase into a dimly lit dining room. Here, a gigantic plexiglass window takes centre stage.

The 36-sq-m window - "like a sunken periscope" in the words of its designers - offers a panoramic view of the ever-changing live aquatic show.

There are no clown fish or sharks, like at other underwater restaurants in more tropical locations such as the Maldives or Dubai.

Rather, it is in this simple, but no less spectacular forest of kelp that cod, pollock and wrasse swim past, depending on the season.

In addition to its distinctive architecture and fine dining, Under wants to shine a spotlight on environmental issues.

The international service staff are trained to provide guests with information about the aquatic show they are watching.

The restaurant is a 34m monolith designed by Norwegian firm Snohetta, known for its celebrated buildings such as the Oslo Opera and the 9/11 Memorial Pavilion in New York.

It can serve up to 40 diners during its one sitting a day, five nights a week.

In the kitchen, Danish chef Ellitsgaard and his staff let their imaginations run wild when creating seasonal menus based primarily on what the sea has to offer, including a dessert composed of five types of algae collected from a nearby shore.

"We try to use things that are in the area and also use things that nobody else is really using," Ellitsgaard said.

The restaurant, however, is probably not for everyone's budget.

The tasting menu, consisting of 16 to 18 dishes, costs 2,250 kroner (S$353) a person - and double that when wine is included.

Under is nonetheless fully booked for the next six months.

"The wonder is when you come here from the surface and you get into this magnificent light," said Mr Dag Jacobsen, a 59-year-old professor, who dined there with his wife and another couple.

"You see this kind of underwater light... The greenish, bluish water and all the interior here is also quite tuned to the sea as well, so you get a feeling of just diving into the sea.

"It is impossible to differentiate between the senses, your taste, sight, sound - everything is connected so it influences the way we experience the food," he added.

For those who might worry about a catastrophe befalling the underwater structure, they can rest assured.

The 26cm-thick plexiglass window is designed to withstand storms and the entire structure, with its thick concrete walls, is built to resist pressure and shocks from the rugged sea conditions.

"We've been through so many consultants I think it's safer than anything else," said Mr Stig Ubostad, who co-owns the eatery with his brother Gaute.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2019, with the headline 'Underwater dining'. Print Edition | Subscribe