The best food films and series to watch, picked by Telegraph Food

Celebrate London Film Festival by binge-watching our favourite food films, documentaries and series

julie and julia 
Meryl Streep as Julia Child in the 2009 hit Julie and Julia  Credit: Jonathan Wenk/Film Stills 

This has been the year for virtual food fixes. Prevented from dining out for months, and with restrictions still in place, we have turned to the small screen for sanctuary where, thankfully, a wealth of programming exists, from feature films and standalone documentaries to 'docuseries' and cookery shows. 

This week, BFI London Film Festival returns with events, talks and virtual screenings, and if you're in need of inspiration for your own viewing, here are some tips from the Telegraph Food team. There are family-friendly animations such as Ratatouille, classics including Babette's Feast and Chocolat, or just some good old series from Britain's favourite chef-travellers, like Rick Stein and Keith Floyd. 

Enjoy, and let us know your favourite food films, documentaries or series in the comments below. 

READ MORE: The best food shows on Netflix 

Babette's Feast 

Available on Google Play, YouTube Movies and DVD from Amazon

It's 30 years since this 'resting' restaurant critic first watched Babette's Feast; once seen, never forgotten. It left me not only salivating but – via a neat reveal – applauding Babette's proto-feminist credentials. 

The story of a mysterious Frenchwoman (Stéphane Audran) who arrives to housekeep at the home of two elderly sisters living in an austere Danish community and ends up transforming lives, is an act of extraordinary generosity and culinary magnificence. It's not only good for the soul (chicken soup off this particular menu, however) but visually sumptuous, too. If you've not had the pleasure of the first Danish film ever to win an Oscar, there's arguably no better time to tuck in. 

Kathryn Flett, Telegraph restaurant critic 

Chocolat

This charming and seductive work, adapted from the novel by Joanne Harris, celebrates the joys of life's simple sensual pleasures. Vianne (Juliette Binoche) and her little daughter open a confectionery shop in a little French village. But it is Lent, and the shop is opposite the church... 

One by one, with individual treats, Vianne wins over the scandalised populace, and plans a festival of chocolate – to be held on Easter Sunday. The supporting cast (including Johnny Depp and Judi Dench) are delightful, but Binoche carries the movie – as irresistible as her character's creations. 

Andrew Baker, Telegraph weekend editor and author of From Bean to Bar: A Chocolate Lover's Guide to Britain 

Tampopo

Available on Google Play and DVD from Amazon

In film, food is usually deployed as a metaphor for something else – desire, progress, trust. There's a strain of art cinema that sees eating as a Bad Thing: a symptom of Vanitas, a morbid attachment to earthly delights –La grand bouffe or The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, in which, among other things, Chef shows a remarkable talent for crackling.

A film with a more positive take on food is Juzo Itami's Tampopo, a mildly raunchy "ramen Western" from 1985. But the foodie scenes that have stayed with me are little morsels of normal life that flesh out characters and cultures in the background to the main action: the way the gangsters cook in prison in Goodfellas, say; or Michael Caine as Harry Palmer, expertly rustling up a Spanish omelette ("Leave the cooking to the girl... he is coming across as a homosexual," fumed the studio execs when they saw the rushes) in The Ipcress File; or the tragic opening night of Timothy Spall's doomed bistro the Regret Rien in Mike Leigh's High Hopes.

Keith Miller, Telegraph restaurant critic

Floyd On...

Clips and episodes available on YouTube 

I didn’t realise I was getting interested in food when I first discovered Keith Floyd. I think the first one I saw was Floyd on France, in 1987. It was his presenting style, his directions to the camera, those notorious slugs of wine, the cutaways for a little history while the pot stewed and the Stranglers’ theme tune that got me hooked.

My brother and I used to try and match Floyd drink for drink and we were never then in a fit state to cook. But now I see the recipes were wonderful and the series has aged every bit as well as a drop of Floyd’s favourite claret.

William Sitwell, Telegraph Magazine restaurant critic 

READ MORE: The best restaurants outside London, as recommended by The Telegraph's food critics

The Galloping Gourmet

Clips and episodes available on YouTube

You could spend weeks consuming cooking shows online – Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat; Chef’s Table; Ugly Delicious – but if you want a blast from the past, and to watch a figure who isn’t given enough credit for his influence, dip into some of Graham Kerr’s programmes. Kerr's The Galloping Gourmet first appeared on our screens in 1968. The epitome of joie de vivre, Kerr was swigging wine way before Keith Floyd was enjoying the odd ‘slurp’ and could hold a studio audience in the palm of his hand. He made cooking look fun, do-able and, above all, glamorous. At the end of every show he picked an unsuspecting female from the audience to dine with him on the set. Even at the tender age of five, I wanted to be that girl.

Diana Henry, Stella cookery columnist

Oz and Jilly

Clips and episodes available on YouTube 

I grew up with Oz and Jilly spooling magical tasting notes from the TV in the corner of the room. Their infectious warmth and showmanship helped to democratise wine and it's huge fun to watch old clips on YouTube – catch Jilly enthusing about 1993 Marlborough sauvignon, for example. A brilliant period piece.

For a bit of armchair travelling given that none of us can get on a plane right now, you need The Wine Show. It's beautifully shot, and held together by the bright mind and wit of Yorkshireman and wine expert Joe Fattorini. 

Victoria Moore, Telegraph wine writer

Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown

Available on Amazon Prime Video

The food world mourned the suicide of chef Anthony Bourdain in 2018; but the TV shows the Kitchen Confidential author left behind are treasures to return to. Parts Unknown, available on Amazon Prime, is arguably the greatest food travel documentary series ever made, with seven seasons to graze on.

Inspired by the Granada episode, I had planned to go to the city for the tapas, the flamenco, and the Andalusian lifestyle he found there. My own trip is postponed for now, but in the interim, his presenting is non-intrusive, relaxed; and gives the vicarious sense that you, the viewer, are out there exploring the globe’s culinary traditions with him.

Madeleine Howell, Telegraph Food writer 

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Ratatouille 

Available on Microsoft, Google Play and DVD from Amazon

Live action films sometimes struggle to capture the essence of cooking, but animations, surprisingly, can succeed. No, not Sausage Party, but Pixar’s Ratatouille. This beautifully animated film depicts an anthropomorphic rat, Remy (the choice of animal is surely pointed), a talented cook who teaches clumsy wannabe Linguini the ways of the kitchen, set in what appears to be 1950s Paris. The food is mouthwateringly enticing, despite its inherent fakeness. 

In a climactic scene, Remy and Linguine cook the eponymous Provençal dish for the snooty critic Ego (Peter O'Toole), who is immediately transported to childhood memories, his mother comforting him with the vegetable stew. The film’s core lesson, that anyone can cook, is inspiring, as is the message that, sometimes, simple, hearty “peasant food” should be as cherished as haute cuisine.

As an added bonus, with schools about to shut, it's as family friendly as it gets – something that can't be said for Sausage Party.

Tomé Morrissy-Swan, Telegraph Food writer 

Goodfellas 

Available on Netflix, iTunes, Microsoft, Google Play and Amazon Prime

Yes, Goodfellas. Blood and guts, cocaine and Scotch; there’s a lot of other stuff going on in the Scorsese classic, but what I’m interested in is the meatballs and marinara. From beginning to end, hardly a scene goes by that doesn’t pay homage to classic Italian American cooking, just like Mama makes it.

The sausage and peppers cooked by Paulie in the back of his kitchen; the unctuous-sounding veal and pork butt, braised and served with ziti, meat gravy, string beans in garlic and olive oil and cutlets to start made by Henry (“Don’t let the sauce stick”); the guys sat in prison making themselves a pasta course and a metre-long fish, Paulie slicing the garlic so thin it would liquify in the hot oil. It says, being a gangster comes first, but eating comes a pretty close second. 

Pip Sloan, Telegraph Food assistant editor 

Big Night

Available on iTunes, Microsoft, Google Play and Amazon Prime 

Widely known as a passion project for its lead, Stanley Tucci, who is a big foodie, Big Night is probably one of the most well-respected food films ever made, with various critics including Grace Dent and Jay Rayner citing it as a favourite. I first came across Big Night at a festival all about food on film and I go back to it all the time.

I love it because it really lifts the lid on what happens behind the scenes in the restaurant industry, both in the kitchen and in the wider business. As much as you can almost taste the freshly cooked pasta and sumptuous desserts on screen, you also feel the sense of constant anxiety and panic that powers small restaurateurs through the day. With moments of both light and absolute despair, Big Night is a film I think about almost every time I eat out now. It's an absolute must-see. 

Jack Rear, Telegraph Food writer

Anything by Rick Stein 

Available on BBC iPlayer 

Anyone who enjoys Rick Stein's food and travel shows as much as I do is spoilt for choice, with five of his series on iPlayer and several also airing on BBC2 and BBC4 at the moment. Stein's amiable intelligence and obvious, though quietly stated, joy in food and cooking is always a delight to watch. 

Right now I'm loving his Secret France series in particular (BBC2, Friday evenings at 7pm). Stein really knows his wine and references it regularly. I often wonder, though, what is in the glass next to his plate – something delicious, I bet. 

Susy Atkins, Sunday Telegraph drinks columnist 

Julie and Julia 

Available on iTunes, Microsoft, Google Play and Amazon Prime

The story of one of the first food bloggers, Julie Powell, is interwoven with dramatisation of the life of Julia Child, the woman who brought French cooking to an American audience. The sections with Powell are sometimes all too relatable – and one point, embarking on a year long challenge to cook every recipe from Child’s oeuvre Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Powell remarks, “after a day when nothing is sure, and when I say nothing, I mean nothing, you can come back home and add egg yolks to sugar and chocolate and milk and know that it will get thick. It’s such a comfort.” Words for our times, indeed. 

And sure, as the critics point out, ultimately Powell’s parts are anodyne compared with the earthy grittiness of Powell’s original book. But the glorious passages with Meryl Streep as the irrepressible Child and Stanley Tucci as her husband, having the time of their lives in post war Paris more than make up for it. Just get the ingredients ready to make boeuf bourgignon before you sit down to watch it, because I promise you, that’s what you’ll want to do next. 

Xanthe Clay, Telegraph Food columnist 

If there were any moment in film designed to trigger young writers it would be this: Julie Powell walks out of the kitchen muttering in frustration. "I could write a blog," she says. "I have thoughts." Based on a true story, the American comedy-drama contrasts the life of  iconic chef and author Julia Child in the early years of her culinary career to the life of Powell: 'office worker by day; renegade foodie by night'.

The effortless charm of both lead actresses makes the film for me. Meryl Streep shines as Julia, nailing the chefs adoration of food, namely butter, and French culture, while Amy Adams's Julie is lovable, frustrating and a true underdog. Whether you fall in love with the artsy shots of baked fish, Parisian kitchens and bustling restaurants, or just the characters themselves, one thing is certain: the viewer is set to be a foodie by the end credits.

Morgan Lawrence, Telegraph Food writer and lifestyle assistant 

The Beer Hunter Movie 

Clips available on YouTube

The Beer Hunter was Michael Jackson, who died in 2007, and his riveting Kickstarter-funded documentary scrapbook of his travels amid the world of craft beer, a world he helped create. For me, Jackson was the writer who, with his TV series The Beerhunter and newspaper columns in the 1990s, made me realise that beer had a rich and vibrant culture and it might be rather fascinating to write about it. 

Whether it's an American beer festival with the crowd chanting his name or the sense of self-deprecation and humour he always possessed or the eulogies from brewers he knew and supported, this is a thirst-provoking documentary. 

Adrian Tierney-Jones, Telegraph Food beer writer 

A Cook's Tour of France

Episodes available on YouTube 

I'll be spending my isolation watching an old BBC series called A Cook's Tour of France, by Mireille Johnston. Firstly, because it was a brilliant series where a really intelligent, informed woman tours France talking to people about food, but it is also very comforting to watch. It reminds me of an old world which, although only filmed in the early 1990s, seems to have disappeared. She also has a lovely voice! 

Stephen Harris, Telegraph columnist and chef-owner of The Sportsman in Seasalter, Kent 

The Hundred-Foot Journey

Available on iTunes, Microsoft, Google Play and Amazon Prime 

Helen Mirren: tick. Gloriously bucolic views of southern France: tick. Shots of drool-worthy food and ingredients more seductive than an M&S ad: tick. Lasse Hallstrom's drama plays out in a picturesque village where Mirren's formidable Michelin-starred restaurateur Madame Mallory holds court; the arrival of the Kadam family from Mumbai, who establish a new restaurant just across the road, threatens her dominance. We sympathise with Papa (Om Puri) while watching love blossom between his eldest son and Madame’s sous chef, Marguerite: predictable, maybe, but humorous and enchanting, a delicious distraction that serves up some light relief.

Amy Bryant, Telegraph Food editor

Share your favourite food films or features in the comments below