Iris the Restaurant: a Case Study in Destination Dining

In the middle of the stunning Handangerfjord in Norway, new restaurant ‘Iris’ has opened, claiming a unique gastronomic and educational experience. Housed in the futuristic ‘floating art installation’, ‘Salmon eye’ – part aqua-culture centre, part charitable foundation, Iris is not your standard eatery.

With the rise of destination dining, (or ‘expedition dining’, as Iris refers to their offering), Iris offers a multi-location, educational experience that’s something straight out of the 2022 film ‘The Menu’ – with a mission surrounding sustainability and untapped food sources at it’s heart.

Let’s dive into the components that make up the restaurants design, guest experience, and conceptual positioning.

Iris the restaurant exterior architecture

Design:

Iris is the brainchild of Kvorning Design, known for crafting educational and exhibition spaces, museums and World Heritage Sites. They describe Salmon Eye as an “aquaculture” centre, and an “offshore brand experience” informed by exhibition and educational design practices.

The exterior of the structure is covered in 9,500 stainless steel plates designed to imitate fish scales, with a round opening at the top – reminiscent of an ‘oculus’ often found in classical and byzantine architecture. Oculus’s were used as a sundial, light source and a meditative focus point between earth and sky – which seems fitting for a centre who’s mission focuses on a consideration for our planet.

‘Salmon eye’s’ architecture features a circular opening at the top of the structure, drawing a parallel with an oculus often found in classical architecture, and the structure of a fish eye.

The interior features are divided into four floors, one of which is underwater, where guests start their tour. The upper floor of the restaurant houses iconic Scandi furniture, and the upper deck allows guests to experience the fresh air and sunshine – both complimented by panoramic views of the surrounding Fjord.

Experience:

Guests’ journey begins with a boat ride to a nearby island, greeted by meditative surround sound as they board and disembark. Multiple locations transform destination dining into ‘expedition dining’ and additionally offer a chance for branded travel experiences between sites, allowing guests to witness the landscapes and environments where their ingredients are sourced, breathing in the fresh air and connecting with place.

a nearby island kicks of the iris restaurant experience

On arrival at Salmon Eye itself, visitors are greeted with a video in a viewing room situated three meters underwater. An educational film about climate change sets the restaurant’s mission in guests’ minds. This underwater room serves as a hybrid of exhibition and design, presenting global food challenges and the untapped potential of the ocean.

Hanging seaweed crackers served with mousse made from sea urchin, draw attention to utilising an increasing sea urchin population as coral reefs collapse. The culinary approach reflects trends such as “foraging” and “apocalypse dining,” as defined by Bompas and Parr in their ‘Future of Food’ report 2023.

immersive tech at iris restaurant informs guests before the meal

Stylised immersive tech, often used in gallery or educational settings, informs viewers about the local landscape.

Examples of courses at iris the restaurant

Iris also incorporates immersive tech which might be more often seen in education or gallery spaces, such as projection mapping displaying a stylized map of the fjord and local area, alongside an informational introduction.

Throughout the 18-course meal, each dish tells a unique story, often featuring overlooked ingredients, like oyster mushrooms that help clean oil spills and the small fish that help clean salmon. While the sustainability of some dishes may be questioned, the narratives are undeniably compelling. One course even uses ingredients sourced within a 500-meter radius of the restaurant.

Interiors at iris the restaurant

Classic Scandi furniture sits among Panoramic views of the Fjord.

Bespoke tableware, locally sourced and crafted (left) and imitating the bio-luminescence of sea life (right) extend the narrative right through the dining experience.

Iris pays meticulous attention to detail, ensuring each dining component supports the overarching narrative. Glowing tableware imitates the bioluminescent properties of plant and animal life under the sea, and knives crafted by a local artisan, and made from local wood accompany a course.

Guests move to the upper deck of Salmon eye to enjoy a dish served in the open air – a ‘Viking barbecue’, cooked over open coals. Pairing specific dishes and flavours or eating traditions with specific environments seems fundamental to the Iris experience – and opens up interesting dialogue surrounding the symbiotic relationship between environment and food.

Key themes:

Hospitality X Education:


A purpose driven mission defines Iris’s offering as a restaurant. The menu seeks to act as a showcase of conceptual innovations in food that can help us battle crisis. Iris combines education with dining, from the exhibition informed architecture to the informational segments and offers an alternative from increasingly common retail x hospitality crossovers.

Expedition Dining:


The Iris experience takes you to different places during your meal. You start on a boat, then go to an island, then underwater, and even eat outdoors. Combining travel, elements of foraging, expert knowledge and taking guests to the food source and not the other way around, makes the experience seem pioneering.

Purpose Driven Storytelling:


At Iris the restaurant the mission is laid out from the outset, with each dish offering a chapter to the story. The combinations of theatricality with mission driven dining makes the format even more compelling – despite some sustainability components being questionable at times.

Connection to Place:


Iris makes sure you know where your food comes from – you’re surrounded by place and practice, combatting the increasingly common sense of food disassociation. They tell you about the ingredients they use and why it matters. Each dish is intimately linked to the landscape, visually or conceptually.

Micro & Macro:


From tableware, to names of dishes, to furniture, location and produce, each component at Iris is consistent with the same narrative. The Iris experience is great at linking the micro and macro, and zooming our attention in and out from details to the big picture.

Want to discuss your brand experience or hospitality project?