The Menu: a tense tale of slow-cooked revenge

Best known for directing numerous episodes of HBO’s Succession, Mark Mylod serves up a vicious skewering of social inequality, culinary pretension, cruel critique and even ‘fast food’ cinema.

The Menu (2022)

“He’s not just a chef,” Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) says to his dinner date Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy). “He’s a storyteller.” Tyler is speaking of Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), a celebrated master chef to whose exclusive restaurant Hawthorne, located on an island of the same name, the couple has come by boat with a small number of other well-heeled diners for a special multi-course meal that is also supposed to be an experience and, as the fanatical gastronome Tyler suggests, a narrative. Slowik has closely researched all his guests, and tailor-made each item on his menu to be a provocation, a confrontation, and a lesson in life and death that will prick their consciences as much as tease their palates. Yet Margot, a last-minute replacement for Tyler’s ex-partner, is – as an unknown quantity – a spanner in the works, proving resistant to Slowik’s carefully conceived programme for the night. And so he quickly sets about getting to know who Margot really is and what her proper place might be at his table.

The Menu spans a single night’s dégustation that is also a revelation in miniature of its characters’ broader lives – their desires and disappointments, their vanities and vices. As the evening darkens, the mood turns menacing and there is a tense escalation in dread; it becomes ever clearer that all these dishes are (metaphorically) being served cold, director Mark Mylod (best known for directing numerous episodes of HBO’s Succession, 2018-) layering in incisive observations of class entitlement. But his feature is also concerned with art itself: its conception and painstaking, often painful creation, its reception and criticism, its commodification and exploitation. Here the art is not only Slowik’s menu and its realisation by his loyal hostess Elsa (Hong Chau) and an enthusiastic ensemble of cooks and waiters, but also Mylod’s film. Both, after all, tell stories which all at once expose artist and audience to judgement, and whose mouth-watering surfaces and immaculate presentation conceal a mess of imperfection and immolation.

Slowik’s slow-cooked revenge against social inequality, bad taste, cruel critique, culinary pretension and even ‘fast food’ cinema is unsettling and accusatory. Like an expanded version of the élite dining scenes from Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989) and Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness (2022), but also with an unexpectedly sentimental sprinkling of Brad Bird’s Ratatouille (2007), The Menu serves up a vicious story of humanity in microcosm, letting (almost) everyone get their just des(s)erts.

► The Menu is in UK cinemas now.