Have you ever been watching a film and thought, ‘I wish I was eating that’? Not a film but Bake Off, obviously. Don’t tell me you didn’t drool when the rat cooked up a storm in Ratatouille. How about, um, White Chicks? Get Out? Well, that’s the concept of Taste Film: It allows you to feast on food inspired by the movie you’re watching, currently at two venues across London.
I really can’t imagine why you’d go for White Chicks, or what that would entail. But, luckily, I’m here for the immersive showing of The Menu – you know, that stressful film where Ralph Fiennes plays a deeply egotistical, increasingly deranged chef.With hungry anticipation, I arrive at The Parlour, a restaurant in Kensal Green, for a seven-course meal (if you include the cup of tea) that’s sure to be my most lavish cinema experience to date.I drink a half pint of pilsner in the restaurant area while I wait for the signal to enter the dining room next door. Everyone seems to be in their 20s up to early 40s – it's a pretty mixed crowd, one of those London vibes where there is no discernible vibe. It’s definitely not “edgy” or anything, it’s more of a gimmick-friendly, Escape Room crowd – the kind who may have actually enjoyed that Breaking Bad bar. I’m told there’s a noticeably rowdier, more party crowd at The Refinery, the other venue in Moorgate.We’re soon allowed in and I find my seat in the dim, mood lighting. The dining room feels French bistro-y with its white wall tiles, and it has an assortment of diner-esque leather benches and chairs. The film will be projected onto a screen at the end of the room.
I’m sharing my table with three excited, affable women who look to be in their 30s. They're dressed up nicely, and I get the feeling this is a real treat for everyone – which makes sense considering it costs a whopping £100, with an additional £20 for the wine pairing. (Not that I’ll be paying, which is a touch.) This is actually Taste Film’s most expensive showing since Taste Film launched in 2017, and it’s also their first ever substitution-less menu. Led by chef Jesse Dunford Wood – a big name on Masterchef, I hear – usually, the price is around £75 to £80 with cocktails included.I order an old fashioned (paid for out of my own pocket, sadly) and the waitress tells me to fill out a form, or otherwise gesticulate to get her attention if I want anything extra on the drinks menu. Jessica, the bubbly 30-year-old from Essex sat next to me, asks if I want my picture taken. I realise the hostess is already going round doing that, so I point that out, and the news causes a stir.There are six men here, including me, and 24 women. There are six girls on the first table alone. The guys all seem to be on dates, or double dates. Once my whiskey comes and I start to take stock, I tell myself that, while it is very date-y and I’m very much on my own, I’m not a freak because I am a man doing a job. The film starts.
Three minutes in, the first course arrives: It’s oyster mignonette with trout caviar and sea foam, and it tastes like the actual ocean. I make a mess of it with the touch lamp and laugh about it with Jessica. I don't look up for about nine minutes – which I appreciate isn't the vibe – but I’m battling with the lighting as I take photos of my gorgeous dish. Taking photos is allowed here, and I’m starting to realise why they aren’t usually. The film seems heavy with haughty atmos.Something must be happening on screen, but I'm in eating mode now. I start nailing the popcorn that’s been there since the start. That actor who always plays sad sack characters, Reed Birney, appears on the screen. I'm a bit tipsy and I’m consumed by the notion of consumption. I feel lucky to be here. I have a lightbulb moment that the nature of the film – in which diners looking for the most avant-garde, high-end restaurant experience possible accidentally become enmeshed in the murderous plans of a maniacal head chef – is mirrored in us Taste Film attendees. We, too, are pushing the boundaries of how food can be experienced, and I feel a little rush when the circularity hits home. Ralph Fiennes is being insane and I'm struggling to turn flash on. Fiennes is saying something menacing about bread and I am devouring the glorious seafood course. Named “From Land To Sea”, it arrived at minute 16 along with a scrumptious Spanish white. The dish is “scallops with plants from around the island and sea water”, meaning mussels, samphire and fennel. This was lovely – definitely restaurant quality. I'm buzzing.
OK, so Fiennes is getting weird now and I'm invested. Someone makes a gag in the film about the wine having tasting notes of “longing and regret” and I chuckle. The girls to my left laugh. A glass of something smashes behind me and it feels like 5D, Smell-O-Vision or whatever that’s called. It all feels very meta.There’s another incredibly meta bit where Fiennes has made tortillas for Nicholas Hoult, and he’s laser-printed an image of Hoult taking photos of his meal onto the tortillas. I’ve been taking pics of my food all night! Fiennes is fucking tearing the diners apart.It takes me until the third course, at 41 minutes, to work out how the fucking flash works on my phone. Everyone in the film is being served a course called “The Mess”, which correlates perfectly with what we're served – mushroom-stuffed bone marrow with some sort of emulsion, alongside some fungi-related bits and nuts.At minute 48 it’s time for the “Palate Reset”, and we’re served a fancy red tea in a glass pot. The girls do an Insta boomerang-worthy cheers.One hour and eleven minutes in comes the main course: “Hopefully Some Cohesion”. It’s lamb (leg and gorgeous shoulder) with a tasty sauce, paired with a warming Malbec – an instant hit. Fienes is quoting MLK now as all the crazy nears fever pitch. Enter a properly good smores-based dessert, paired with a sexy port. When the film’s end credits roll, we all get a mini burger in a takeaway burger box. Both dishes mirror what’s going on on-screen. And it’s a wrap!
So, what do I think about it all then?Well, I think the success or failure of tonight hinged on whether it felt special. And it really does feel special, very much so: It's fun and suitably high-end in execution. The only drawback, really, was having to sit on the edge of my bench seat to comfortably eat (but French cafe vibes, after all) – oh, and the huge price tag. Had I been forking out £100, plus £20 for the wine pairing and whatever else for the extra drinks myself, I might’ve felt a bit differently.I ask Jessica and Shaneka, who’ve seen the film before, for their hot take.“I really enjoyed it, but I felt like there could be more courses to go with the film,” Jessica says.Shaneka, 37, agrees: “We’re just seeing some of the things he [Fiennes] is describing, and not actually experiencing it ourselves. I do think it’s a bit of a misstep not having more of the courses, especially if it’s tied to one of the scenes.”We all concur that the mushroom course was our least favourite, but the menu was generally a big hit. I ask if they think the meal was worth, say, £50-per-head in another context and they agree. Worth £100? Not according to them. “£70, I’m good,” Shaneka says, Jessica in agreement. It’s hard to say how less satisfying the meal would’ve been had we just been sat in a movie-less restaurant. But perhaps it’s pointless trying to compare. The reality is, the sensory double-hit of the screen-to-table experience really does enhance the pleasure, and if people are willing to pay £100 for it, then why not?I really enjoyed myself, frankly. Would I swap every regular cinema experience for this? No, sometimes you just want to eat smuggled-in Malteasers, and duck as soon as the film ends. I have a feeling this might be a do-once kind of experience. But it still felt worthwhile, and it’s a sick idea. I’d encourage my friends to go, especially at the £75 price point, as I think it trumps the classic restaurant followed by cinema routine. The film was a cracking choice, too: Kudos to the curators, everything about it was experiential and performative, fitting right in with the Taste Film experience. I’m not sure about the upcoming Home Alone, though – I’m OK for that pigeon lady’s special broth.@niche_t_