This dark and malevolently funny film, directed by Mark Mylod, expertly skewers the pretensions of fine dining and the people who indulge in it. It’s an assured piece of work, but, as somebody who enjoys the occasional bit of haute cuisine, I take its final assertion – that the only food worth getting worked up about is cheeseburger and fries – with a large pinch of smoked paprika.
Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) is a lover of good cooking, sycophantically devoted to the work of culinary genius, Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), about whom he has an encyclopaedic knowledge. When we first encounter Tyler, he’s waiting impatiently at a quayside with his date, ‘Margot’ (Anya Taylor-Joy), for the boat that will take the two of them over to Slowik’s private island. Once there, along with a group of other specially invited guests, the couple will experience the great man’s latest menu. Their dinner companions include a couple of influential food critics, a trio of investors, a B-list movie star and even Slowik’s mother, who appears to be hopelessly drunk as the guests take their seats.
Slowik’s devoted staff hurry obey his every word, while his second in command, Elsa (Hong Chau), wanders around the restaurant politely insulting the diners to their faces.
The ensuing events are presented as a series of courses, complete with onscreen descriptions and, as the time slips by, Slowik’s offerings become ever more absurd. (I particularly love the course that consists of a selection of accompaniments for bread that neglects to include any actual bread, no matter how vociferously the diners demand it.) But soon violence and bloodshed become major ingredients and the diners are fast losing their appetite. It’s clear that this is going to be Slowik’s swan song, a rebuke to a way of life that he has increasingly come to despise – and that it’s going to take considerable ingenuity to survive the final course.
An inventive satire packed with scenes of cruelty and humiliation, The Menu seems to take great delight in settling scores. There are some clever plot twists here – though not everything stands up to close scrutiny – and Fiennes excels as a man who has let his own burgeoning success push him to the very edge of sanity. Taylor-Joy is terrific too, as the only character in the film prepared to tell Slowik exactly what she thinks of his food.
It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I thought The Menu was delicious. Bon appetit!