Deep-sea Dining

A One-of-a-kind Restaurant Beneath the Surface of the Indian Ocean

By Jen Turner

The otherworldly vibe 16 feet below the ocean's surface at the Ithaa Undersea Restaurant (above) at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.

The otherworldly vibe 16 feet below the ocean's surface at the Ithaa Undersea Restaurant (above) at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.

Deep-sea Dining

A One-of-a-kind Restaurant Beneath the Surface of the Indian Ocean

By Jen Turner

There are countless restaurants that boast an ocean view, but none has a perspective quite like this. The Ithaa Undersea Restaurant, one of 11 restaurants and lounges at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, is the first and only all-glass undersea dining experience on the planet. It's like a restaurant with an aquarium, only in reverse. Here, the fish roam free, and the diners are happily contained, gazing outward at a whole different world.

The intimate restaurant, whose name means "mother-of-pearl" in the local Dhevehi language, seats 14 people and offers staggering 180-degree views of the surrounding reef by day or night. The dining room is sunk near a network of coral reefs surrounding the chain of 26 islands that make up the Maldives. These waters are home to more than 2,000 diverse species of sea life, including whales, dolphins, stingrays, eels, squid, and sharks—any of which could swim up and visit during lunch or dinner, and often do.

How did engineers and builders pull this off? Imagine a beautiful tube (three acrylic arch segments cast in the U.S. and assembled in Singapore) weighted with 85 tons of sand in a compartment underneath the floor and lowered by crane 16 feet into the ocean. That was the vision executed by the designer-engineer Mike Murphy of M.J. Murphy Ltd. in New Zealand. A team of divers awaited the tube underwater, attaching it to four steel and concrete foundation piles. The design team added beautiful timber decor and air-conditioning, and the Ithaa was born. It started serving Maldivian-inspired meals in early 2005.

The restaurant is open for both lunch and dinner to provide very different visual experiences. At midday, the Ithaa is so bright that diners and staff wear sunglasses; Conrad supplies shades if you forget yours—as well as a sunglass cleaning service.

"The daytime offers better visibility, but at night you get an amazing array of fish flashing by in the light," says Murphy. For instance, restaurant staffers remember the evening a school of stingrays stopped by. "Stingrays seem to like the feel of the glass as they slide their bellies across the windows, but usually only one or two rays visit at any time," public relations manager Katherine Anthony says. "One night, though, 15 stingrays turned up at once and completely covered the restaurant so that the only thing seen by the diners inside were the undersides of the stingrays." As for the menu, it's seasonal and constantly changing—but as you might have guessed, fresh seafood is always a favorite.