The Menu begins with a well-dressed young couple, Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and Margo (Anya Taylor-Joy) waiting at the pier for a boat to take them to an island for dinner at the Hawthorne, a restaurant run by celebrity chef, Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes).
As Tyler explains there are only 12 guests, (at $1,250 per guest), warning bells would be ringing loud and clear for all murder mystery fans. Any casual reader of whodunits knows an island, a fancy dinner and a disparate guest list… most definitely equals bloody murder.
Tyler gives a running commentary of the proceedings to Margot. He makes mocking, semi-accurate pen portraits of the other 10 guests, which include famous food critic Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer) and her fawning editorTed (Paul Adelstein), a rich couple and repeat customers at Hawthorne in Richard (Reed Birney) and Anne (Judith Light), a movie star past his sell-by date (John Leguizamo) and his assistant Felicity (Aimee Carrero), and three tech bros, Soren (Arturo Castro), Dave (Mark St. Cyr) and Bryce (Rob Yang).
The intimidating restaurant captain Elsa (Hong Chau) greets the guests and shows them around the island, including the foreboding smokehouse. “Here, we are family,” she says, “We harvest. We ferment. We gel.”
Slowik promises his guests they will “ingest fat, salt, bacteria, fungi, various plants and animals and at times entire ecosystems.” He insists they be mindful. Do not eat, he urges as, “our menu is too precious for that.” Taste, savour and relish is his mantra.
As the courses are presented, including a bread basket without bread, the guests react in expected ways with Lillian talking of tasting the ocean, and Ted slavishly agreeing while Tyler is moved to tears with the beauty of the experience. The tech bros are brash and uncouth. Only Margot is unimpressed by all the ritual. The guests slowly come to realise apart from serving a fancy meal, Slowik is also serving his customers unappetising truths.
A black satire, The Menu skewers the world of haute cuisine where the clueless rich, the mindless fanboys, the “foodie” (what an abused word!) and the all-knowing food critic outshout each other with names of techniques and tools.
The idea for The Menu came to screenwriter Will Tracy during a dinner at the Cornelius Sjømatrestaurant in Norway on a honeymoon. The restaurant is on a private island and Tracy realised they could not leave until the meal was done; it does not say much about the marriage though. The food in the film was designed and prepared by Dominique Crenn, chef at Atelier Crenn in San Francisco.
The Menu is fascinating for the ratcheting tension, where violence is just a hair’s breadth away in a fine-dining experience. Also gripping is the battle of wills between Margot and Slowik which Taylor-Joy and Fiennes bring to life in the most thrilling way.
If you are on the lookout for a biting satire on the business of food, The Menu would be the perfect bite.
The Menu is currently running in theatres