Inspired by the enigmatic world of gourmet food, top chefs, and avant-garde cuisine, director Mark Mylod delivers a satirical take on elitist restaurant experiences in The Menu.
The title itself piques the curiosity of viewers, and like all self-proclaimed foodies, I couldn’t help but wonder what lavish entrées would be served up throughout the one hour, 47 minute run time.
Instead of rushing into wide-pane shots of plating and tasting as you might expect, the story builds through the setting. The initial scene begins with the overly eager Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and his relaxed date Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) waiting for a private boat. They are en route to Hawthorn, an illustrious off-coast restaurant that is world-renowned for its menu. More importantly, head chef Julian Slowick’s (Ralph Fiennes) culinary artistry — to be enjoyed for a humble price of $1,250 per person.
Obviously, the characters are paying for more than great-tasting food, which, in the end, proves more costly than they expected. Each of the characters themselves are worth more than what meets the eye, as they flavour the strong tones of high-class grandiosity and hauteur throughout the film.
The cast includes a group of A-listers who are all in some way, a crucial part of The Menu. Notably, the notorious food critic Lilian Bloom (Janet McTeer) who is credited with putting Hawthorn on the map, and her loyal editor Ted (Paul Adelstein).
When they arrive on the island, the eclectic group is greeted by the robotic and dour Elsa (Hong Chau), the overseer of guest experience. She eyes up Margot, who has taken the place of an absent Miss Westervelt, a woman who had dumped Tyler prior to dinner. The uneasiness created by Elsa tells viewers that something isn’t right, especially with Margot’s presence on the island, according to the larger and darker scheme slowly unravelling.
The scriptwriters, Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, did a great job of balancing the dark and solemn nature of the film with the punchy dialogue between the characters.
Many lines offer an ironic glimpse into the mystifying world of fine dining. After guests step foot on the island, Bloom examines the coastal surroundings and says, “I do like the sense of it being sort of a biome of culinary ideas.” Ted nods and replies, “Right. It functions like an epicurean salon.”
This ridiculous banter plays into the flashy realm of food that’s captured by the Emmy-nominated Netflix series, Chef’s Table. In fact, Tyler even confesses that he’s binge-watched every single episode of the show upon being seated. Food lingo like “oyster leaf” or “lemon pearl alginate” are uttered in the same meal as s’mores and real American cheese at Hawthorn. This mockery further fuels the caricature of The Menu’s meals, which will leave you hungry for actual sustenance in the film.
These strange ways of thinking about food, beyond its default of eating, are continuously probed in ludicrous ways. The dishes are thoughtfully created as stagecraft to perform The Menu, and unravels darker secrets about each character as the night goes on. Some entrées mock the ideas of ultramodern cuisine being a mirage of flavour and storytelling, that ultimately isn’t a fulfilling meal. Guests are served a “breadless bread plate” as an appetizer that reminds them that, unlike common people, they are too prestigious to enjoy Hawthorn’s well-known bread.
Viewers and characters alike become enraptured in this idea that high-class food is ultimately a carefully crafted performance. Darker meals in the film titled “memory,” “the mess,” and sous-chef Katherine’s (Christina Brucato) revenge dish of “man’s folly” come into full effect through a horrifying presentation.
Comically, the absurdity of these meals is broken up with more light-hearted ones like “palette cleanser” and “birthday cake.” Without fully exposing the plot, the supplemental course of “a cheeseburger” ends up being the lifeline for a desperately hungry customer.
Maybe simpler meals really do hold more value than the shell of flavours offered by high-class dishes. Slowick’s obsession with selling disillusioned ideals as food to customers who could never be satisfied in the first place, spikes a deadly twist that is worth watching. Overall, The Menu feeds horror movie lovers. While not produced by A24, those who enjoy the thrilling uniqueness and satirical dark-comedy of one will love this film.
You can stream The Menu on platforms like DisneyPlus+, Apple iTunes, and Google Play Movies.