There’s a new fine dining restaurant every foodie simply must try: Hawthorn. It’s the brainchild of Julian Slowik, a renowned chef of the avant-garde variety. Hawthorn is so exclusive that it’s built on a private island. Only twelve diners (no singles) are welcome at a time and a six-course dinner comes with a price tag of $1,250. Gratuity is, thankfully, included.
If just the thought of haute cuisine has you salivating, it’s too bad that Hawthorn is fictional. It only exists in The Menu, a new satirical thriller with an ensemble cast that’s sure to spice up your evening.
The Menu is a Thrilling Dark Comedy with the Right Blend of Ingredients
Mark Mylod, known for directing Shameless and Succession, has served up another dark comedy. And The Menu is a dish that anyone with good taste will gobble up.
It stars Ralph Fiennes as the celebrity chef Slowik whose reputation clearly precedes him. Foodies of the highest caliber reserve a seat at Hawthorn just to taste his creations. For the night, the diners are a mix of finance bros, a movie star past his prime and his assistant/girlfriend, a wealthy couple who are regulars at the restaurant, and influential food critics personally invited by Slowik.
Reservations are made months ahead of time and Hawthorn has a very strict policy against substitutions. So when influencer Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) brought a different date, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), Slowik’s service gets interrupted.
More than the food in The Menu, guests come for the theatrics Slowik is known for and he does not disappoint. He introduces every course with a thunderous clap of his capable hands and provides a backstory.
But after a course or two, his flair for the dramatic gets old and the guests begin to question his genius. Margot, the unexpected guest, does the most offensive thing to any chef: she leaves her food untouched. Visibly frustrated, Slowik continues to introduce the third and most shocking course of the evening—and the guests fear they may never be able to leave Hawthorne in one piece.
The Menu Makes Fun of Pretentious Foodies and Celebrity Chefs
The Menu is one of the most original films I have seen in a long while. Other than the trope of the final girl, the turn of events is unexpected and the writing is satirical without being offensive. Not surprising, given that writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy are The Onion alums.
Close-up shots of perfectly plated dishes in the style of Chef’s Table are engaging as well, but the acting is where The Menu shines best. The ensemble cast brings the tropes alive. They are great at portraying their particular brand of privilege, earned either through wealth, influence, or connections.
Margot, a sex worker Tyler hired to be his date for the evening given Hawthorn’s no solo dining policy, is the odd one out. Try as he might, Slowik is unable to size her up the way he has already judged the other guests in preparation for this very special dinner service—the way The Menu makes fun of the privileged and pretentious worshippers of the hoity-toity foodie culture.
For starters, or amuse-bouche if you will, there is Tyler, the designated influencer of the group. Hawthorn doesn’t allow taking Instagram shots of the food. Chef Slowik, as Elsa (Hong Chau) the maitre d’ explains, believes food is an individual and ephemeral experience that could not be shared through images.
Tyler ignores this rule and takes sneaky snapshots of the courses anyway. He acts the way insufferable food influencers do in their natural habitat. He interrupts the chefs to assert his knowledge of haute cuisine. “Is this bergamot I’m getting, chef?” he asks already knowing the answer.
But Tyler is more than an influencer we love to hate In The Menu. He represents people who worship celebrity chefs to a cult-like level. If Tyler were a real person, he would definitely consider Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay to be the revolutionaries of their time, regardless of their reputations.
Slowik did appreciate Tyler’s fanaticism enough to trust him. He can’t say the same of the arrogant finance bros, the wealthy couple, or the washed-up movie star whose biggest reason for being there is not their love of food, but feeling like they should dine at a place like Hawthorn. It’s where every other rich person is eating at, why shouldn’t they?
Money, as Slowik wants them to understand, does not automatically make one a worthy diner. The Liebbrandts couldn’t name a single dish they were served in the eleven or so times they have eaten there. The Hollywood hotshot, George (John Leguizamo), simply wants to use Hawthorn in a TV show he’s pitching. And the men who were seriously connected in the finance industry, not to mention the main investor of Hawthorn? Well, they asked for food that wasn’t on the menu.
Not all the guests were oblivious to or unappreciative of the genius of Slowik, however. Food critic Lillian (Janet McTeer) was enjoying the full course menu with her editor Ted (Paul Adelstein). “We’re eating the ocean,” she says after a bite of the appetizer. She describes the food as thalassic and other adjectives ordinary people don’t pepper over dinner. The words she uses are ultimately the weightiest. Compared to the rest, Lilian is not a foot soldier of the pretentious foodie culture The Menu satirizes but a kingmaker.
In case you missed Ratatouille, the Lilians of the haute cuisine world can make or break a restaurant or its chef with their review. But Slowik has come to detest the authority that food critics have gained over time. He wants Lilian to remember the restaurants that have gone out of business because of her scathing reviews, which is why she was among the esteemed guests of Hawthorn.
One of the things The Menu does really well is poke fun at foodie culture from all angles. It’s not just the influencers, the critics, or the posers who create an exclusionary culture around food, but the chefs as well. Slowik might be a genius in the kitchen but, as Margot points out, he has taken the joy out of eating. He dictates the way food should be consumed as if there is only a single way to truly experience a meal. He tweezes dishes to a degree that they become too perfect-looking to eat. And the $1,250 price point is simply a frivolous waste of money.
As his obsession over perfection in food grew, his passion faded. He has gained the respect of the food critics, the admiration of celebrity chef wannabes, and the trust of wealthy investors. But he lost his purpose in making food. He hated himself as much as he hated everyone who enabled his success, so he cooked up a bizarre way to end his legacy.
In the end, it’s the basics that make him remember the joy of cooking and serving people. Good news for our final girl Margot, but not so much for the privileged guests whose fates were sealed as soon as they boarded the boat.
In an era where food as a subject feels more ubiquitous in serious films and shows, The Menu is a refreshing palate cleanser. It doesn’t take food too seriously. In fact, its sole purpose is to make fun of how snobby foodie culture can get. Sometimes, food doesn’t have to be conceptual like Chef Slowik’s full-course dinner service. It just has to be edible, delicious, and made with love.
Watch The Menu trailer below.