Of everywhere I’ve traveled and eaten the last few years, I receive the most questions about the underwater restaurant I visited in the Maldives! Named Ithaa, meaning “pearl” in Dhivehi, the local language, Ithaa is a restaurant 5 meters underwater at the Conrad Rangali Island resort!
True to its name, Ithaa is the pearl of the Conrad and certainly its most exclusive restaurant, as only a handful of underwater restaurants exist world wide. And, Ithaa claims to be the first (unclear if that is 100% true, but let’s go with it)!
When my husband and I visited Ithaa in December 2020, Ithaa opened two days per week, Tuesday and Friday, for approximately 12 patrons per seating. I’m not sure if this was due to COVID or standard procedure, but reservations are necessary. We booked 30 days out by emailing the Conrad, where we stayed for 5 nights in December 2020. I understand Ithaa takes non-Conrad guest reservations during normal times but not during COVID-19 (though exceptions may be possible), so if you’re staying else where and wanting to dine here, plan in advance and consider the logistics of arriving at the Conrad (plane, boat, etc.).
If you’re set on visiting Ithaa, you have three options: Visiting Hour, a Lunch Tasting Menu, or a Dinner Tasting Menu. We opted for both the Visiting Hour and the Dinner Tasting Menu, which ended up being an over kill. But, I mean, how often does one eat in an underwater restaurant in the Maldives surrounded by sharks!
All visits to Ithaa begin with a check-in at Sunset Grill, the restaurant “next door.” Guests are then walked to Ithaa, which its on the water behind the Sunset Grill, another Conrad restaurant. Doors open at exactly the time of the reservation, and all shoes must be left outside the restaurant. Upon “entering” Ithaa, guests are seated around a small coffee table and offered a glass of French Champagne or fruit juice and before venturing down into the dining room, staff provide a short history lesson and safety briefing.
Then, guests are invited to descend 33 stairs into the magical dining room! Pro tip – try to go down the stairs first to get a picture of the empty restaurant and pick a seat on the right (with your back to the stairs). The majority of fish congregate on the right side for some reason.
I was quite surprised that once underwater in Ithaa’s dining room, it felt totally normal. The stair case remained open the entirety of our time at Ithaa and guests could go up and down to use the WC. Now, for those planning a visit, here’s my break down on the Visiting Hour and Dinner Tasting Menu. We missed lunch, mainly due to a duck dish on the menu (Dan is allergic), but that’s probably my recommended meal.
“Visiting Hour.” Visiting Hour is precisely 1 hour where guests are invited to experience Ithaa without doing a full meal. Advance booking remains necessary and the Visiting Hour runs from exactly 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM. Don’t be late. Each Visiting Hour party is given a table and served 1 glass of champagne and two small canapes – a vegetarian option and lobster for us. We used this hour to enjoy the champagne and take all the pictures of the undersea animals, including sharks, BABY SHARKS, and lots of brightly colored fish.
The cost for Visiting Hour is $85 per person, exclusive of tip and tax, and you cannot order anything else aside from what is included (even water). Its a pricey 60 minutes, but a once in a life time opportunity if you can’t make a meal! Also, while I recommend the right side of the restaurant, all tables are good and offer excellent views. Guests are also free to walk about, even during COVID, so we experienced Ithaa from almost every angle. Sharks are a guaranteed sighting, as they are feed while guests are at Ithaa, as are many different types of fish!
Here’s a video of the Visiting Hour during the feeding! Hope you can get a feel for Ithaa from it.
“Tasting Menu Dinner.” Ithaa’s Tasting Menu Dinner is a 7 course meal described as the “best” and most posh experience at Ithaa. Dinner starts promptly at 6:30 and lasts several hours. Due to the Conrad’s own time zone (yes, it creates its own), it is sunny when dinner begins, but then quickly gets dark. While there is lighting around Ithaa, the best views are during the day. On our dinner evening, we once again began with a glass of French Champagne. We also pre-ordered a bottle of Tannat from the Conrad’s wine list, yet another pro tip the best experience.
While Ithaa has a good wine list, its very expensive and largely French. Order from the Conrad’s main wine last (available at Rangali Bar) in advance and have it sent over. And, very exciting for our dinner, the Conrad reserved us the best seat in the house for dinner – the middle table on the right side! Side note – usually all tables are first come first serve, but the host knew how excited we were about Ithaa!
First course at Ithaa is a delicious tuna ceviche under a lemon and squid ink panna cotta with passion fruit, mango, and coriander and house-made bread served with an amazing mustard butter. Very tasty. While not quote as good as the Polynesian tuna tartare, this dish was very good and set the pace for the meal to come. Also, sorry for the bad pictures, the lighting is not ideal, and it gets pretty dark by the time the food comes out.
The second course, to my surprise, was even better, caviar served on buckwheat toast with charred onion, potato, creme fraîche, peas, and dill. I’m not always a big fan of caviar, especially the larger caviar, but this was excellent. The portion sizes were perfect; enough to get a real taste of the food, but not so much that diners are stuffed.
Next is my very favorite course – chicken and foie gras roulade served with picked shimiji, apple caramel, walnut, and spiced quince. Yes, I looooove a proper French roulade, and it is so difficult to find in the US. This one is excellent! I also heard at least two other diners remark that this was the favorite dish of the night!
Next we moved into what I would describe as the more “dinnerish” courses. And, I was excited for the first one (because of course I looked at the menu in advance!), Maldivian lobster tortellini! While delicious, this lobster tortellini was not quite the tortellini that I imagined. Instead, it was more of 2 lobster wontons paired with a tasty saffron and potato creamy sauce, sweet corn, and charred leek! As expected, the wontons were great, but, again, just not what we expected HAHA. Dan had a whole conversation with the chef about this! That being said, I think we preferred the wontons to the pasta!
Starting to slow down, the next course is a welcomed palate cleanser of coconut, white balsamic and lemongrass sorbet. This little respite also gave us a moment to catch up on our Tannat drinking and take some more pictures!
The main course at dinner as a decent sized steak cooked in a sous-vide style served with buttered ceps, watercress, parsnip puree, and truffle potato croquettes. Unfortunately, I forgot to take any pictures!! Too busy eating and enjoying the view. Sorry! Know that the steak is great and we finished all of it.
Dinner finishes with a delectable chocolate tart topped with raspberry sorbet, sour berries, lime foam, and a lavender marshmallow! Very artistic and a lovely way to end the dinner. Post-dinner, checks are signed, lots of pictures are taken, and guests leave around 10:30 PM. While not rushed at all, everyone left around the same time, probably because it had gotten very dark and there was not much left to see.
So, after visiting twice in 1 day, here are my take aways! First, you do not need to do both the Visiting Hour and a meal. The beginning of dinner is light enough to get the “day time” experience. That being said, if you are at all a foodie, this is a cool experience and the food was the best we had at the Conrad. The best bet is probably a lunch meal, which is four courses and entirely in the day light.
Dress is casual – no jackets or ties. Most women wore long dresses or pants. Bring a scarf or jacket, as it is chilly underwater at night!
If you want to order wine not on Ithaa’s menu, like we did, arrange this much before going to Ithaa. For example, earlier in the day so that there is time to fetch it and bring it to Ithaa.
Staff was happy to take pictures of guests, as were most other guests! Take a lot, as the lighting is kind of strange and pictures are difficult to get just right!
STEAL OUR TRIP
Ithaa Underwater Restaurant: Regular and vegetarian set menu offered. Reservations essential. Shorts permitted even for dinner, but no swim or gym wear permitted. Most women wore dresses or pants and men shorts or pants with a polo or button up shirt. No one wore jackets/ties. The entire affair was actually pretty casual. No shoes are permitted in the restaurant (leave them outside). Be sure to check the prix fixe meal costs with the Conrad, as they change. That being said, the Conrad is upfront about disclosing the price. Our dinner was quoted at $330 per person, but that excludes tax, tip, and any wine in addition to the first glass of Champagne. The total came out to just over $1,000.
ON A BUDGET
If you are budget conscious, do the Visiting Hour. The Visiting Hour gives you enough time to experience the restaurant and take lots of pictures, while avoiding the costs associated with food. Plus, it comes with a glass of Champagne and two small bites. Also, there’s plenty of other really cool (free) things to do at the Conrad. So if you think Ithaa is ridiculously priced, don’t feel bad skipping it! Many guests skip Ithaa and still have a great time!