A culinary homage to Norway’s coast
BY ANJA FAHS
At Cape Lindesnes, on the southernmost mainland point of Norway, where the rough waves of the North Sea break on the rocks, a huge concrete monolith slides into the sea and sinks below the surface. It is a building that fits perfectly into the rocky archipelago landscape. Here, “Under” is being built, the first underwater restaurant in Europe and one of the largest in the world.
The lowest point of the gourmet restaurant is located about five metres below the sea surface. Visitors will have the opportunity to experience a mysterious and amazing underwater world that is unknown to most, in addition to culinary highlights from the sea. Due to the location of the restaurant, the kitchen is of course focused on seafood. But local specialties from Norway’s forest, garden, underwater and beach are also to be found on the menu. The design for the spectacular building was created by award-winning Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta. Rune Grasdal, project manager at Snøhetta, talks to us about the challenges involved with this task. Nicolai Ellitsgaard Pedersen, Chef at Under, tells us what pleasures the gourmet restaurant’s guests can expect as soon as it opens in the first quarter of 2019.
Rune, is Under some kind of “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea – Jules Verne” vision?
Under is first and foremost a tribute to the Norwegian coastline. Norway is a nation that is closely connected to the ocean, both culturally and economically. It’s immensely important to safekeep the ocean for the future, and in many ways the project aims to put the spotlight on this topic.
Underwater restaurants are not a new thing, there are already a few in the world, for example in the Maldives. What differentiates the Under?
The project is situated in a special location at the southern tip of the Norwegian coast. This area is characterised by rugged sea conditions and the building is built to both adapt to and withstand this context. It’s very different from anything you will ever see in the Maldives. The colours, the fish species and the seabed vary a lot from the Maldives.
The first pictures of the restaurant show a big square concrete construction dipping into the sea. What is the design idea behind it?
The concrete of the restaurant exterior is designed to naturally allow for vegetation and molluscs to grow on the restaurant surface. By consequence, and over time, the restaurant will naturally blend into its surroundings. The large acrylic window is an important feature in this regard, as like a sunken periscope, the restaurant offers a view of the seabed as it changes throughout the seasons and varying weather conditions.
Please tell us how Under will be built.
The construction will be built on a barge, and when finished, it will be lowered into the sea and attached to foundations on the seabed. Only then the interior work can begin. Building under water will be the biggest challenge. Technically, this is not our first project under water, but it is our first underwater restaurant.
How can you ensure that the marine life will not be affected during the construction process?
Under has been designed with sensitive consideration for its geographic context and aquatic neighbours. The sleek, streamlined form of the building is encapsulated in a concrete shell with a coarse surface that invites mussels to cling on. Over time, as the mollusc community densifies, the submerged monolith will become an artificial mussel reef that simultaneously functions to rinse the sea and naturally attract more marine life to its purified waters.
What are the special features inside the restaurant?
The building comfortably accommodates 80-100 guests. As visitors begin their journey through the restaurant they descend through three levels. From the entrance, where the tide pool is swallowed by the sea, guests enter the wardrobe area. Visitors are then ushered down one level to the champagne bar, which marks the transition between the shoreline and the ocean. This physical transformation is emphasised by a narrow acrylic window cutting vertically down through the restaurant levels. From the bar, guests can also look down at the seabed level of the restaurant, where two long dining tables and several smaller tables are placed in front of the large 11 x 4-metre panoramic acrylic window. Muted integrated lighting from the inside of the restaurant and installed on the seabed will help stage the wildlife flourishing on the sandbank outside.
What will the interior of the restaurant look like?
The restaurant’s colour palette follows the logic of the different stories of its construction. While the champagne bar is characterised by colours inspired by the coastal zone, with its subdued colours evoking the sediment of shells, rocks and sand, the dining room is submerged in darker blue and green colours inspired by the seabed, seaweed and rough sea. The warm oak of the restaurant interior contrasts with the rough concrete shell, creating an intimate atmosphere. Materials are chosen not only for their aesthetic qualities, but also for their sustainable characteristics and ability to create a good indoor climate. Advanced heating pump technology that utilises the stable seabed temperature works to heat and cool the building year-round.
Nicolai, what will your kitchen in Under look like? Are there any special equipment or safety regulations?
It is going to look and function like a regular kitchen on the ground. The pressure is going to be the same and there are the same safety regulations as in a regular building. The ventilation is made up of two separate systems, just like in normal buildings.
Are you already working on ideas for the menu?
In my head I have been working on the menu since November 2016. I have been brainstorming a lot and testing things all the time. I am trying to get new ingredients from the sea that people don’t currently eat, such as amphipods, krill and stuff like that. Believe it or not, amphipods give a fantastic taste to a sauce or paste.
Did you create a special dish for Under?
What kind of dishes? That’s difficult to answer. Most of the dishes are going to involve some kind of seafood of course, and I really love the free range lambs that live on all the small islands here in the southern part of Norway. Actually, I love everything that’s grown by locals with a passion for what they are doing. At the moment, I’m working with this edible limpet shell, and inside there’s a cream made out of limpet. I’m really, really hoping that it will be so good that it can go on the menu. But right now, I’m not truly satisfied with the taste of the edible shell, and the idea must never overcome the taste. I see that in a lot of restaurants all over the world, and I think it’s a shame. The taste is the most important aspect for me! I’m also currently experimenting a lot with koji made with Norwegian grains.
What inspires your culinary creations, apart from the sea?
It can be everything from a walk in nature to travelling. I like taking foreign dishes and try to do them in a Norwegian way, even though I’m Danish, I feel like I’m a Norwegian. I even like lutefisk, the traditional Norwegian fish dish made from dried fish, which most Norwegians don’t like. Maybe it’s because it is served with bacon and a butter sauce. I tried a wonderful type of dumpling-style pastry when I was in China last year, and I want to work with that as a sweet petit-four for the coffee at the restaurant. When eating wild herbs in nature, some dishes just pop up into my head, and I need to write them down right away so I don’t forget them. As soon as I get back home or back to work, I’ll start testing it out. Norway’s wild nature inspires me a lot!
Rune Grasdal is project manager at Snøhetta. The Norwegian architectural studio has developed some of the world’s most significant public and cultural projects over the past 25 years. Snøhetta designed the Norwegian National Opera in Oslo and the pavilion of the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York City. The design office was also involved in the design proposal for Norway’s new banknotes.
Nicolai Ellitsgaard Pedersen
Nicolai Ellitsgaard Pedersen was born in 1986. He is the head chef of the Norwegian Underwater Restaurant “Under”. Previously, he worked as a chef at Måltid, one of Norway’s top five restaurants, as well as Henne Kirkeby Kro, a Danish Michelin-starred restaurant.
This article was published in The Produktkulturmagazin, issue Q1 2018. Picture credit © MIR and Snøhetta