Europe's First Underwater Restaurant Serves Dazzling Tasting Menus in the North Sea
Dressed in awe and mystery, Under––Lindesnes, Norway’s newest fine dining attraction that’s partially submerged under the North Sea––is one of the world’s most intriguing new restaurants. With a kitchen team lead by Danish commander Nicolai Ellitsgaard––former head chef at Måltid, considered one of Norway’s best restaurants until its shutter three years back––Under functions as both a destination eatery and research facility that’s dedicated to studying and preserving marine life. Ellitsgaard’s 18-course menu is built primarily (though not entirely) from rare, and under-appreciated seafood sustainably sourced from surrounding water, along with wild game from the archipelago.
“Our mission is to show the diversity of what we have here in the southern part of Norway, especially from the ocean,” says Ellitsgaard. “We will focus on ingredients that are little-used, like stone crab, squat lobster, and bycatch,” and seafood that fisherman typically return to the ocean, such as ling head (similar to cod) and fish roe.
Known for its intense and rapidly-changing weather conditions, Under is located along the Norwegian coastline, at its southernmost tip. And while its founders, Norwegian hospitality vets, brothers Stig and Gaute Ubostad, initially planned to build an underwater hotel, when that idea proved too complex they switched gears to a restaurant. The duo hired acclaimed local design firm Snøhetta to conceive of an environmentally-conscious, 111-foot-long, minimalist structure built from half-meter-thick concrete walls to withstand water pressure; the building gives back to sealife by doubling as an artificial reef.
From a distance, one could easily mistake Under for a half-sunken ship. The restaurant’s entrance peaks above the water, while its dining room rests on the sea floor 16-feet below. Guests enter through an oak wood-clad foyer and, before descending to the dining room, they pass a slim lounge that doubles as a waiting area. Stairs lead down to a sparse main dining room where the central attraction is a massive 36-foot-long window that offers an unobstructed view of the glowing, emerald green ocean and its busy residents––jellyfish, lobsters, and schools of fish.
Under soft launched on March 20, but the public won’t begin to dine until April 2. Since reservations opened last January, the restaurant’s 40 seats are already fully book though September. Those keen to dine will next have the opportunity to secure a space on April 1 when reservations for the month of October commence.
Those who plan to dine in the coming months can expect a $265 ocean-oriented tasting menu, with dishes like carpet clams dressed in roasted yeast; pickled sugar kelp and Jerusalem artichoke foam; and confit cod loin cooked in birch bark oil with a sauce made from birch and oak leaves. Sommelier Jefferson Goldring has written a wine, beer, and cider pairing of around eight to nine pours for $170. Otherwise, guests can also opt for a $100 juice pairing that mirrors the restaurant’s locally-minded ethos.
Ellitsgaard spend the last two and a half years researching Lindesnes’ marine life, along with local produce and proteins from the nearby lands. In addition to more luxe ingredients like Danish caviar, the chef focuses on incorporating products that typically would go to waste, like squat lobster (an animal that ranges in size from one to four inches and resembles a lobster in shape, but is more closely related to a hermit crab) and cod head.
Though common in high-end Chinese cookery, sea cucumber is rarely consumed in Norway, yet it will grace Under’s menu, cooked sous-vide in butter, then barbecued and glazed. Likewise, the first course on Ellitsgaard’s menu includes limpets (a type of snail that attaches itself to rocks along the coastline) made into a parfait with cream, butter, and onion reduced in white currant juice, with later dishes weaving in coveted 100-year-old mahogany clams (some may recall that René Redzepi served the same clams on Noma’s reopening seafood menu last spring) and ample seaweed. Frequently found in savory cooking, Ellitsgaard is incorporating seaweed varieties dulse and bladderwrack into a dessert.
“We do this seaweed jam together with a traditional Scandinavian childhood memory called pinnebrød, a kind of wood-fired sweet dough,” explains the chef. And while Ellitsgaard was initially excited about another type of seaweed, vertebra lanosa, that tastes like truffles, he says that since he started telling media about it three years, many chefs in Norway have begun to cook with it.
But perhaps Under’s most important global payback is that that restaurant enables marine biologists to study sea life for long durations of time without the need to rise to the surface for air, as is the case when diving. Under plans to partner with interdisciplinary research teams, such as the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomic Research (NIBIO), to study how fish respond to sound signals via cameras and other measurement tools installed to the restaurant’s exterior.
What could easily sound like a gimmicky theme park attraction is, in fact, a visionary, three-year project in the making that seeks to offer a new perspective on sustainable dining as much as it does to offer a positive impact on the planet.