The Menu is a horror film about fine dining that revolves around a psychotic head chef (Ralph Fiennes) who runs a destination restaurant on an American island. The island is uninhabited apart from the chef and his staff, who pluck it for the most refined marine treats to serve the obnoxious clientele on a nightly surprise menu. As I sat in the cinema watching it recently, I felt delighted, then sick, then scared – and then enlightened.
Enlightened because I finally understood that fine dining – once the summit of high living and my own former obsession as a greedy twenty-something working in lifestyle journalism – is over. It is not just that in this era of obsessive authenticity and sentimentality fine dining feels passé. It’s more than that; it’s revolting, grotesque: a vulgar performance of the kind of wealth and values we no longer want to see.
There is no better sign of this than the announcement this week that three-Michelin starred Noma in Copenhagen – regularly voted the best restaurant in the world and legendary in a way the rankings do not capture – will close in 2024. I tried several times to gain entry through numerous channels and never even received a reply to my hopeless, hubristic query. (As a substitute while in Copenhagen a few years ago, I walked around the restaurant and peered in its blank windows.)
René Redzepi, the chef who opened it in 2003 and pioneered the ‘new Nordic’ cuisine of painstakingly foraged local ingredients presented in mind-bending ways, said that continuing was ‘unsustainable. Financially and emotionally, as an employer and as a human being, it just doesn’t work’. Noma chefs and workers are known to put in back-breakingly long hours, as one might expect for an outfit that serves up the likes of reindeer-brain custard stuffed in a bone, bear dumpling and reindeer penis ragout.