Tonight you will dine at Hawthorne, one of the most exclusive restaurants in the world. For the upcoming dining experience, you’ll pay 13,000 per envelope, and the culinary epicenter is located on a picturesque, remote little island that can only be reached by private chartered boat. As one of the privileged few, for four and a half hours you will be looked after in ways you could only dream of. You will see things you have never seen before. Discover flavors you never thought existed and meet people you wish you had never met.
That’s the premise of Mark Mylod’s horror satire The Menu, which certainly spares no punches when it comes to poking fun at the pretentious upper class in general and the foodie phenom in particular. Twelve carefully selected characters now arrive on the island, all with some kind of background and backstory for the legendary leader, Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). All but one, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), who arrived as “plus one”. So she arrives at the establishment with an obsessive, self-proclaimed food connoisseur, Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), but doesn’t quite buy into the concept of fine dining herself. In the company of someone just as boring as Tyler, it’s easy to see why it’s hard to enjoy a simple yet oh-so-tasty oyster mignonette. The other guests consist of a bunch of loudmouths with made-up titles and their best years behind them. Bitter food critics, retired actors, greedy hedge fund brokers and lisping assistants. A couple dined at Slowik’s eleven times without even being able to tell if they ate cod or halibut.
Margot doesn’t belong here. She doesn’t care if the dairy cow was murdered for 152 days or 153. She doesn’t care what it does when a scallop dies or if the cuisine is Thalian or French. She shrugs at a wine that smells bittersweet of nostalgia and sadness, and the fact that the dishes served are as beautiful as small works of art doesn’t bother her. She is there to be fed. Not reciting food chronicles or listening to stories from the bloated chef’s childhood, which start early, cutting between Slowik and his expected guests. From the first course, it is clear that this will be a special evening. “Breadless Bread Plate” is exactly what it sounds like. An empty bread plate. When a note describing the bread is left in place of the product itself. Is it a play on molecular gastronomy or is it a mockery of the whole growing trend of expectation? Where you simply expect to receive award-winning sourdough bread, bread so special that songs have been written about it. Now that he is completely absent, the whole world is turned upside down for the guests selected on the spot. It’s like a slap in the face and you can hear the indignant murmurs. “How does he get on with that?? But what we hear, Slowik hears too. If someone complains about a cracked emulsion, they can expect more of the same. Somebody try the old technique of domination proven “Do you know who I am? » but gets the cold shoulder. Slowly but surely diners are starting to realize that this is no ordinary tasting menu.
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The menu impresses on many levels. It’s a sly satire that really manages to get its finger on the whole issue of classism, where everyone owns someone and throughout the film there are references to the underpaid and often ungrateful, where the passion for the creative process is pitted against its wealthy clients, who are only there because they believe money can buy anything. They claim to know everything about cooking but have never made bouillabaisse at home in the kitchen, they probably never even fried a burger. They put strong labels on someone else’s life’s work, without even being able to pronounce the ingredients correctly. They love snow on the dishes, but only because it’s in it, because it’s trending on social media right now. They take pictures in poor lighting which does not do the dish justice. They are self-proclaimed geeks who take everything for granted, and to top it off, they show the power of media in society. Who can single-handedly bring down an entire business or crush a dream with just a few mean words. The way this question is addressed in The Menu is simply masterful.
Slowik isn’t a hero, he’s more of a stone-cold psychopath and a full-fledged narcissist, but despite that, he’s the character I feel the most for. When he tries to please the impossible, he ends up losing his purpose on Earth, joy and the desire to please. This is also the film’s biggest problem. Of all the twelve guests, there is no one who deserves my empathy. It’s a big, generic chunk of one-dimensional, over-the-top characters that I wouldn’t cry for a minute, if they had ended up in the pot themselves. But I understand why. Because it is a set that in some ways also represents society as a whole and, with a little imagination, the seven deadly sins, with lust, greed, pride, gluttony, sloth, anger and envy. Less flattering qualities that can actually be plastered on all visitors, but some more clearly than others. For example, we have a wealthy, elderly man with a liking to young women, the money-hungry hedge fund dealers where a life of mediocrity is never an option. We have the food critic who considers himself above everything and everyone and Tyler himself who is the essence of gluttony. They all have a role to play in this masterpiece.
A total of seven stories are served on beautiful platters tonight and here we set aside all norms and delve into the very heart of the art of cooking. What separates a stellar restaurant from a decent joint. Imagination, presentation, love and the will to always be the best and to do so at all costs. Sometimes you have to sell everything you own and have, sometimes you have to move to your own island and isolate yourself from civilization in order to cook the best lamb steak money can buy. In a perfect world, Hawthorne would have been a gift, a boon, and a favor. For anyone who wants to drown their sorrows in something beautiful, for those who seek inspiration and don’t care what tomorrow brings, but just want to live in the here and now. For anyone who just wants to escape everyday life for a while. But here it becomes a meeting place for anxiety. A home for truths and a final destination for dreams.
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The Menu is a film that is sometimes so incredibly beautiful that it makes your eyes water and your pulse race. Here, photographer Peter Deming has really outdone himself, creating a presentation that often recalls Chef’s Table, but with a much less pleasant ambiance in the kitchen. The colors and shapes come to life before my eyes and become small, first-rate works of culinary art. I can almost touch the ingredients and feel the flavors caress the gum seal in a symphony of aromatic eroticism. Add to that Colin Stetson’s orchestral soundtrack and a sense of sinister elegance emerges that is extremely hard to resist. This euphoric feeling of perfection persists in both the starter and the main course, but the dessert is unfortunately, as often, disappointing. After indulging in freshly harvested scallops, island plants and flowers and wallowing in pressure-cooked vegetables, bone marrow and beef au jus, we are bound to end the evening with a finish that leaves very little to the imagination. In a way, it’s a perfect ending, because that’s usually the feeling in real life once dessert arrives and turns out to be a tired version of tiramisu or a lackluster sorbet. On the other hand, it’s incredibly flaccid and also a powerful wash in the face of all of us who assumed we would get an explanation as to why this is happening, here and now. Despite this, The Menu is a delicious dish well worth trying. Enjoy your lunch!