Film Review | The Menu

I “dined” at Hawthorne the other day – a beautiful austere restaurant on a small remote island. Fabulous fresh produce, sourced from then island and the adjacent waters. Minimally cooked to bring out the flavours of the ocean. Albeit fictional, it is an experience I can recommend. The menu, like many modern menus, is not printed but explained to you as the dishes are served. The food is sublime – if not a little esoteric.

Head Chef Julian Slowick is reminiscent of many Michelin-pedigreed chef favourites such as Rene Redzepi, Gordon Ramsay, Massimo Bottura, Ferran Adria, Thomas Keller and countless others. Played in this piece of theatre by Ralph Fiennes, Julian Slowick is committed, strong, powerful and vulnerable. Conducting the experience with a carefully controlled distance, from his open kitchen orchestra pit that so many places have today.

His staff in true Escoffier fashion are passionate and disciplined, obeying his every wish. The military presence of the kitchen rhythm beats like a relentless metronome.

Margot – one the guests – played by Anya Taylor-Joy – is a fish out of water. She’s the consort, in many ways, of Tyler, a passionate and keen foodie. But she is not so into food – so Tyler has to explain the courses – which is an excellent Segway into the operations of this extraordinary restaurant based loosely on destination dining type establishments like Noma, The French Laundry, The Willows Inn, Berowra Waters, Botanic and many others.

This is a multicourse chef’s menu – starting with a fussy amuse bouche of oysters in foam with golden alginate globes, followed later by a bread course – with no bread. The food is brilliantly prepared and presented. It includes custom decorated tortillas, chicken speared with scissors and a bone marrow & seared steak with freshly plucked scallops arranged with gels and foraged rocks. Simply magnificent.

The final course – s’mores – are perhaps the antithesis of fine dining but in Chef Julian Slowick’s hands are a truly spectacular piece of theatre eclipsing Alinea’s Jackson-Pollack dessert and Bottura’s “oops, I dropped the lemon tart” providing an awe inspiring finale.

The service is – well, professional but a bit brusque. Chef Julian Slowick is a true artist but suffering from his years of pain in an industry rife with abuse, critique and perfectionism at any cost. Like all passion, it shows in his dishes.

The guests include wealthy business people, a retired couple, movie stars and of course a food critic.

“The Menu” is most definitely worth a detour. Sadly, the team at Hawthorne have gone their separate ways and it has, I think closed, so you will only have to imagine the painstakingly prepared and brilliantly executed menu developed by Julian Slowick in cooperation with the real Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn. 

Rating: 4 Stars

The Menu – in cinemas from Thursday 24 November.

By Jeremy Ryland

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