Snøhetta unveils Europe’s first underwater restaurant in Norway
Europe’s first underwater restaurant is rearing its fin above the North Atlantic Sea, ready to reel in its first diners this spring. Under, by pan-disciplinary architecture firm Snøhetta, is three projects in one package: gastronomy innovation, marine research, and an experiment in form following both function and environmental demand.
Since setting up shop above an Oslo beer hall three decades and many design feats ago, Snøhetta is now well versed in the game of design unpredictability. It recently tackled Oslo’s Opera House, the pedestrian-friendly renaissance of New York’s Times Square, and it even has Norway’s newest run of banknotes under its belt. Here, the firm finds itself quite literally in uncharted waters, and never has the world seen anything quite like it.
The southernmost tip of Norway is like seeing the world with its lid off. The air is crisp and the sea and sky are azure blue on blue, divided only by rippling, fragmented fjords. Under is not hard to miss – a monolithic hunk of half-sunk concrete, beautifully at odds with the tranquil, chocolate-box town of Båly.
From one angle, the structure looks a bit like an accident – the latest architectural victim of coastal erosion or a shipping container nose-diving off a cliff edge. But Under is nothing short of genius, prompting awe, fleeting amusement and a lot of questions.
Unlike other underwater dining experiences to bob up around the world – think Dubai or the Maldives – the marine conditions here are in a different league of fierce. For thrill-seeking Snøhetta, this was all part of the fun. ‘We were looking for the ideal subsea setting,’ says Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, founding partner of Snøhetta. ‘We wanted more waves, and we wanted more wind.’ The structure – submerged five and a half metres below sea level and resembling a periscope – has been meticulously engineered to resist the shocks of an extreme marine environment. A reinforced, convex concrete shell and three-feet-thick acrylic windows minimise coastal impact and ensure that you won’t so much as get your hair wet.
Inside, guests are welcomed into the warm arms of stripped-back Scandi design. Split over three tiered levels, the interiors are a team effort with an emphasis on local trade. Kvadrat chipped in with textiles and acoustic panels and local interior craftsman Hamran decked out the space with understated furniture and soft oak cladding.
Chef Nicolai Ellitsgaard – formerly at the helm of the Copenhagen’s Måltid restaurant – had the unenviable task of conceiving a menu to match the view. In terms of content, it’s along the lines of what’s swimming past the glass. But come prepared with an open mind and an empty stomach – Ellitsgaard has succeeded in carving out his own gastronomic utopia and is armed with two Michelin stars to prove it.
Under is a panoramic theatre: the stage an 11 m wide window beyond which kelp forests sway to the beat of current pulses, algae shifts with the seasons, and breeds of zooplankton make for a stirring performance. Outside service hours, the vessel harbours a research centre for marine biology where specialist teams gather data to encourage Mother Nature’s subaqueous blueprint to prosper.
Make no mistake, the menu prices are robust, but considering you’re catching two fish in one net by also visiting an inverted aquarium, Under begins to seem well worth the waiting list, connecting flight and cross-fjord expedition. Whether a gastro enthusiast, marine life tourist or just well heeled and curious, the whole saga will leave you totally smitten. Under is both the real, and unreal deal. §