The Menu movie is a wild culinary adventure with a key missing ingredient

Delectable and deadly, The Menu will carve you up and eviscerate with its biting satire but, like so many high-end degustations, ultimately leaves you a little unsatisfied.

The star-studded black comedy features an impressive ensemble led by Anya Taylor-Joy and Ralph Fiennes, and the direction of the stinging Mark Mylod, who sharpened his knives on Succession and Entourage – so he has the requisite experience in skewering the rich and privileged.

The Menu is an atmospheric, claustrophobic thriller with a killer ending, but manages to fall short in serving up a full-course of deranged delights. Even so, it will undoubtedly entertain and amuse, and it will activate those salivating tastebuds.

The story is centred on one night at Hawthorne, the gastronomic palace of revered chef Julian Slowik (Fiennes), where the gathered guests of this particularly special occasion will find themselves seduced and then repulsed. It’s a lot of heightened drama.

Slowik is a giant in the industry, a man who worked up from being a burger cook to one of the most esteemed chefs, worshipped with devotion by his fans and his cult-like staff.

For this service, Slowik has assembled a guest list unmatched in entitlement, including know-it-all foodie fanboy Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), cutting food critic Lillian (Janet McTeer) and her editor Ted (Paul Adelstein), has-been actor George (John Leguizamo) and his assistant Felicity (Aimee Carrero), businessman Richard (Reed Birney) and his put-upon wife Anne (Judith Light), and three obnoxious finance bros Soren (Arturo Castro), Bryce (Rob Yang) and Dave (Mark St. Cyr).

The only person on the list who’s not meant to be there is Tyler’s last-minute ringer date Margot (Taylor-Joy), whose presence causes endless, mysterious consternation to the severe maitre d’ Elsa (Hong Chau) and Slowik.

The courses of lemon pearls made from algae, exactly 152 days aged dairy cow and breadless bread plate with savoury accompaniments, are framed as “art on the edge of the abyss”.

But more bewildering is the behaviour from the Slowik, Elsa and the kitchen, whose Chinese Army-like precision and obsequious toadying hints at a creeping dread. Actually, hint would be putting it mildly. Something is clearly not as it should be.

It’s pretty clear that The Menu is taking the trope of chef as god and taking it to the extreme.

But as much as the film’s playful take-down of highfalutin fine dining is fun, as well as the character assassinations of the privileged few who can access a $1200-a-plate experience, there are some missing ingredients.

For one, the characters are shallow archetypes. Lillian and her editor are pretentious and elite while the finance guys are aggressive and smug. But there’s no depth to them, as amusing as they are, and The Menu relies on your existing familiarity to argue for their awfulness as people.

But its main issue is that even though it takes you on this wild adventure, culminating in a truly jaw-dropping culinary sequence you can’t quite believe, it ultimately lacks coherence. What was the point, exactly?

Just to torture the food puns a little bit more, it’s like a dish heaped with lobster, caviar, truffle and a dozen other umami-rich flavours — they sing on their own, but it doesn’t completely come together.

Rating: 3/5

The Menu is in cinemas now

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