By Ron Bernthal
Located at the southernmost point of the Norwegian coastline, where cold winter winds and ethereal summer breezes blow over rocky beaches, an underwater restaurant, the first in Europe, is situated at a unique geographical confluence, where thousands of marine species flourish in the briny and brackish waters of the North Sea to produce a natural abundance in biodiversity at a coastal site in the municpality of Lindesnes in southern Norway.
The Snøhetta-designed restaurant, called Under — in Norwegian, “under” has the dual meaning of ”below” and ”wonder” — opened in 2019 and was awarded a Michelin star in 2020, the first restaurant in southern Norway to receive this prestigous designation. It also functions as a research center for marine life, providing a convenient location for marine biologists and others to study the wild and beautiful coastline of Norway’s southern tip, and what types of sea life lie beneath the sea. Leaning halfway into the North Sea, the building’s 112-foot long, uniquely designed monolithic form breaks the surface of the water to rest directly on the seabed 16-feet below.
The structure is designed to fully integrate into its marine environment over time, as the roughness of the concrete shell will function as an artificial reef, welcoming aquatic snails and kelp to inhabit it. With the thick concrete and steel walls lying against the craggy shoreline, the building is constructed to withstand pressure and shock from the rugged sea conditions. Like a sunken periscope, the restaurant’s massive window offers a view of the seabed as it changes throughout the seasons and varying weather conditions.
“Under is a natural progression of our experimentation with boundaries”, says Snøhetta founder and architect Kjetil Trædal Thorsen. ““As a new landmark for Southern Norway, Under proposes unexpected combinations of pronouns and prepositions, and challenges that determines a person’s physical placement in their environment. In this building, you may find yourself under water, over the seabed, between land and sea. This will offer you new perspectives and ways of seeing the world, both beyond and beneath the waterline”.
The restaurant seats 35-40 dinner guests every night, in a dining room protected by half-foot-thick concrete walls. Danish-born executive chef Nicolai Ellitsgaard, originally from the acclaimed restaurant Måltid in Kristiansand, Norway, runs the 16-person kitchen team. “Fresh ingredients and pure, naked flavors are of utmost importance to us. At the same time, we want to provide an unique dining experience that ushers our guests beyond their comfort zone. Just on the other side of our iconic window, the ocean is bursting with fresh delicacies from the sea, so the journey from the kitchen to the plate is minimal,” said chef Ellitsgaard. At the restaurant there is no set menu, but a 15-20 course seasonal tasting menu, with the fish and seafood coming from the cold sea just outside the windows. Could any restaurant offer fresher product? Perhaps that is one reason a table at this fine-dining venue must be reserved weeks or months in advance. Monkfish and Norwegian fish soup are often part of the tasting menu, as are an assortment of crabs, oysters, calms, and lobster, and the beautifully crafted desserts always close the meal. For an extra cost, diners can add wine pairing to the cuisine. Like many upscale restaurants that offer a multi-course tasting menu, the price is high and portions tend to be small, but the quality of the food is high and creatively presented. And, as the saying goes, the scenery of this Norwegian coastal location is priceless.
An equally important part of the project is the building’s use as a marine research center. The restaurant will welcome interdisciplinary research teams studying marine biology and fish behavior, through cameras and other measurement tools that are installed on and outside the facade of the restaurant.
The researchers’ aim is to document the population, behavior and diversity of species that are living around the restaurant, through cameras and live observation. The goal of the research is to collect data that can be programmed into the learning tools that monitor the population dynamics of key marine species on a regular basis, thereby creating new opportunities to improve official marine resource management.
In addition to visiting Under, the southern region of Norway has lots of inlets along the coast where cafes, small seaside hotels, white-painted wooden houses and rocky, windswept coves offer visitors an opportunity to explore this beautiful, maritime region of the country. The Lindesnes Havhotell is located on the shore of the of the Njerve Fjordm, just a 4-minute walk from Under. Other properties are situated just a short drive away, either in the direction of Stavanger (about 2:30 hours NW) or Oslo (about 4:30 hours NE).
Top of page banner photo of Under interior © Tom Nordstrom 2020