Made to a tried and tested recipe laid out in Richard C Morais’ novel, The Hundred-Foot Journey is an uplifting comedy drama charting the battle of wits between two restaurateurs in a close-knit French village.
It’s a familiar story of feuds and reconciliation, love and loss, laced with the heady spices of one family’s proud Indian heritage.
Screenwriter Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things) offsets the sweetness of the central narrative with tart one-liners, and garnishes with crowd-pleasing performances from Helen Mirren and Om Puri as fierce rivals, who learn to see eye to eye over the simmering saucepans.
Lasse Hallstrom’s handsome confection is comfort food for the soul.
Myriad scenes of chefs searing fresh meats and fishes, or lovingly stirring the ingredients of thick sauces, tantalise the senses and make your mouth water.
Papa Kadam (Om Puri) and his five children flee Mumbai after an arson attack on their restaurant, which results in the death of Papa’s beloved wife (Juhi Chawla).
Initially, the Kadams settle in London, but they leave because talented chef Hassan discovers that “the vegetables have no soul, no life”.
So the clan seeks new horizons in Europe.
Shortly after crossing the Swiss border into France, the brakes on the Kadams’ van fail and they crash close to the village of Saint-Antonin, which boasts a Michelin star establishment Le Saule Pleureur run by widow Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren).
The building across the road from Mallory’s restaurant is vacant and Papa dreams of serving traditional Indian fare to the good people of France.
Eldest son Mansur (Amit Shah) tries to dissuade his father from competing with Le Saule Pleureur: “It is the best restaurant for 50 miles and the President of France eats there!”
Unperturbed, Papa opens Maison Mumbai with Hassan as head chef.
This sparks a bitter rivalry with Madame Mallory’s own chef Jean-Pierre (Clement Sibony) that spirals out of control.
Thankfully, Madame’s pretty sous chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) is more welcoming and she inspires Hassan to learn classic French cuisine including boeuf bourguignon and pigeon aux truffes.
The Hundred-Foot Journey trades heavily on the spiky banter between Mirren and Puri, the former adopting a cod-French accent as she tells the Kadams: “If your food is anything like your music, I suggest you tone it down.”
Their interplay is a solid and appealing foundation for a sweet romantic subplot between Dayal and Le Bon.
When Knight’s script veers into slightly darker territory, and adds the poisonous tang of fame to the feel-good mix, the film stumbles.
Thankfully, director Hallstrom restores balance with a last-minute dollop of shameless sentimentality to ensure audiences leave with their bellies full of unbridled joy.