Peter Ormerod reviews Giggling Squid in Jury Street, Warwick
The only question is this why this has taken so long. Thai cuisine is perfectly suited to modern tastes and concerns. At its best, it is substantial without being heavy, and zingy and sharp without being overwhelmingly fiery. Textures intrigue and aromas beguile, while the food invariably has a clean and fresh finish. It is also a boon for those who find certain ngredients ubiquitous in European cookery hard to stomach: gluten and wheat are relatively scarce. It was about time that someone noticed; and thus we now have Giggling Squid.
Yes, it's a chain. But unlike so many of its high street peers, it's thriving, with what it calls 'measured' plans to expand: it operates 32 sites and has opened eight in the past 12 months. It expects to launch between six and ten new restaurants every year for next few years; Leamington is due to get its own this autumn. It also retains strong links to its origins: the menu has an introduction by Pranee Laurillard, who established her first restaurant in Hove with her husband Andrew Laurillard. He is now the company's managing director.
With a distinct lack of competition in terms of national Thai restaurant chains, Giggling Squid could be forgiven for growing complacent, and for serving dishes that tick Thai boxes but fails to excite (see various Italian chain restaurants for comparison). The good news is that Giggling Squid is significantly better than it needs to be. It steers clear of kitsch, chintz and cliche, in decor, service and food, and offers distinctive and memorable dining.
This much became evident as soon as my starter arrived. The betel leaf and ginger lime salmon parcels are new addition to the menu but ought to become one of the chain's trademarks: little nuggets of the delicately cooked fish are each wrapped in a leaf along with lemongrass, lime cubes - skin and all - ginger, chilli and coconut, with a pleasingly piquant dressing. You take it in one and - bam. The little parcel explodes inside the mouth with fizz and crackle and flavours going off like fireworks. There are four of these on the plate and each one is worth savouring. My companion's prawn crackers offered more familiar joys but were as crisp, flavoursome and grease-free as could be hoped for.
Crying beef was next for me, and what a noise it made as it sizzled on the serving plate. It was a wonderfully cooked slab of sirloin, blending a sweetness with the bitterness of its (deliberately) charred edges. It was accompanied by a stir-fry of beans, onions and chilli, which would probably have been enough, but my side of charcoal noodle pad kimao brought out the flavours even more, lending heat and earthiness. The Thai red curry ordered by my companion was textbook example of the dish, well rounded, perfectly balanced, fresh on the palate and flavoured delicately yet robustly.
My coconut pudding with berry compote rounded things off splendidly, a deliciously light but intensely satisfying way to end the meal, the gentleness of the coconut enlivened but not overly sweetened by the compote. My companion finished her meal with a lychee yoghurt ice cream, which proved another pleasingly refreshing option. Our tastebuds thanked us, but so did our stomachs: for a three-course meal with wine, it left us feeling energised, rather than lethargic, and we departed the handsome town centre premises with something of a spring in our steps.
As long as it keeps its heart and stays true to itself, it's hard to see anything getting in the way of Giggling Squid's (no doubt tasty) tentacles as they extend their reach around more of our towns and cities. Thai food's time has doubtless arrived, and on this evidence, Giggling Squid is perfectly placed to make the most of it.
* Visit gigglingsquid.com to book.