Director Lasse Hallstrom returns to the gastronomic landscape of his 2000 Best Picture nominee Chocolat with this equally soft-entree confection. Based on the novel by Richard C. Morais, The Hundred Foot Journey tells of an Indian family who flee Mumbai for the safer climes of Europe, eventually settling in a small French village, where they open a traditional restaurant.

Helen Mirren plays the intimidating Mme Mallory, matriarch of the renowned Saule Pieurier restaurant just across the street, celebrated for its high-end haute cuisine. She instantly takes against the opening of Maison Mumbai, and so begins a bitter rivalry between the two establishments, as Mme Mallory does everything in her power to drive the competition away.

Despite the violent and xenophobic themes of The Hundred Foot Journey, this is a light-hearted confection played mostly for laughs and targeting precisely the same audience who warmly embraced that similar marriage of Western belligerence with Indian exoticism, The Best Marigold Hotel. Helen Mirren is delightfully formidable, while her adversary, Papa Kadam, is sympathetically portrayed by the equally excellent Om Puri.

Adding a touch of youthful glamour and romance to this tale of warring restaurants is a typically Shakespearean pair of star-crossed lovers, with second son and lead chef Hassan (Manish Dayal) falling for Charlotte Le Bon’s beautiful sous chef Marguerite. Elsewhere, screenwriter Steven Knight – best known for his gritty urban dramas Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises – manages to inject a soupcon of social commentary into what is otherwise an enjoyable, if frivolous affair.

This review first appeared in Cathay Pacific’s Discovery Magazine, December 2014

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