In a world where people talk about chains with a certain amount of derision, I always wonder how many restaurants a certain brand has to expand to become such a ‘chain’. When does an independent restaurant become a ‘group’ or a ‘family’ and what are the factors that dictate when people start referring to it with that slight smirk as they say, ‘oh, it’s a chain though’?
That sneering reference usually conjures up images of a place that started as a personal adventure and has become a money-making cash cow, devoid of personality and charm, but just churning out the meals to make a buck.
Giggling Squid started as a labour of love for Pranee and Andy Laurillard. Pranee, who comes from Thailand, wanted to open a Thai restaurant and despite husband Andy’s misgivings, the couple remortgaged their house to fund their first restaurant in Brighton. That was 15 years ago, and now they’ve got places scattered all over the country – including a new restaurant in an impressive regency building in Warwick.
It’s a big old restaurant, and I’m sure is quite a way from their first establishment in a fisherman’s cottage. But it’s charming as hell. Relaxing decor, with orchids dotted around and a chic, but slightly eastern feeling to remind you of the cuisine you’re about to try, while the staff are welcoming, attentive and polite.
When we’re talking about ‘chains’ becoming soulless places without any kind of passion of story, you definitely don’t get that feeling from the Giggling Squid. A quick glance at the menu will give you Pranee’s story, told in the first person, to transport you to her childhood and her inspiration for much of the menu.
Added to this, many of the dishes have a little additional anecdote that reminds you that this wasn’t a restaurant chain dreamed up by a bunch of suits in a boardroom, but by someone who wanted to share her passion for Thai food.
Giggling Squid’s big thing is actually Thai tapas – a lunchtime offering that I’m gagging to go back and try. But in the evening there’s a slightly more traditional menu of starters, salads, soups, noodles, curries and stir fries.
All the usual suspects are in there from Tom Yum soup to Jungle Curry and Pad Thai but there are some more unusual choices on offer as well, whether it’s ‘Stand up Sea Bass’ or ‘Glorious Morning’ that – according to the menu – reminds Pranee of when they took their children to Bangkok’s china town.
I started with ‘DIY Bundles’ – something I’ve not seen on a menu before, and I was charmed by the explanation that Pranee’s husband Andy :”hates DIY because he’s useless at it. But he does love DIY food.”
A bit like Yuk Sung, this was a fun little starter of lettuce leaves delivered with juicy prawns and an array of other ‘fillings’ from chopped onion to peanut and a hot and sour chilli, garlic dressing. Not a massive culinary challenge for the chef, but a light and fresh way to start the meal, with the added theatre of building your own starter.
When they describe the prawns in this dish as ‘giant’, it’s definitely not a case of menu exaggeration. They really were huge. And tasty. And thanks to some artful presentation, it was probably the prettiest Pad Thai I’ve ever had.
No style over substance here though – it taste good too. The noodles were cooked right and still had a bit of bite, the bean sprouts, onion and carrots were still crunchy, and it was all seasoned well to give it that lovely moreish-ness that sees you keep on dipping back in, despite being full.
Having had our seafood fix with Claire’s starter and the Pad Thai, we didn’t feel guilty about going for some slightly more carnivorous choices with our other two main courses. The Tamarind Duck had caught my eye – helped again by the accompanying anecdote on the menu that features the romantic tale of how Pranee cooked it for her husband on their first family trip to Thailand.
It’s one of those dishes that comes on a sizzling hot plate and my picture definitely doesn’t do it justice. I particularly like the upfront advice on the ‘duck’ section of Giggling Squid’s menu, which informs you that they use roasted duck breast with the skin on because most people think it’s the best bit, but you can prefer to ask to have it without.
I’m definitely a skin lover, whether it’s duck or any other poultry, providing it’s cooked right. And this kind of dish lends itself perfectly to a nice bit of crispy skin, seared so it’s melt-in-the-mouth, with tender pink duck breast inside. The sweet and sour tamarind sauce complements the duck and brings out those umami notes that are oh-so-important in Asian cooking.
Our third dish was the enigmatically-named ‘Crying Beef at Giggling Squid’ and not something I’d usually order. Basically a grilled sirloin served with a spicy dipping sauce, the menu describes as a dish that originated in the North East of Thailand but has become a national favourite. It was the final sentence that won me over: “Thai enjoy the meat slightly burned with juicy fat, but if you prefer it lean please let us know.”
No lean choice for me I’m afraid. Like crispy skin, I’m a bit of a lover of seared fat. Not the chewy, rubbery awful fat you sometimes find attached to the side of a steak, but that sweet, juice taste of indulgence that melts away in your mouth, oozing a concentrated meaty taste and is everything you know you shouldn’t love but you JUST DO.
The steak was slightly more cooked than either of us would have ordered it – I would have liked to see it a bit more pink inside, but it was well seasoned and the dipping sauce was a well-balanced mixture of salt, sweet and spice that complemented, but didn’t cover, the taste of the steak.
Having worked our way through all three dishes, we decided to stop there. Well, not until I had picked away at the Pad Thai until it was all gone. It was definitely my favourite of the three dishes, and one I’d go back to, but while the others were nice enough I think we potentially missed out on some better options in the menu which I’d be keen to go back for, not to mention the ‘Thai tapas’ that Giggling Squid is known for.
As well as tasty food and attentive service, I was pleased to see a decent wine list as well as cocktails and guest wines. Throughout the menus they seem to cater for pretty much everyone, with children’s dishes, gluten-free options, lunch, dinner and even takeaway menus.
So whether it’s a quiet night out, a spot of lunch, or something a bit more special, you’ve got yourself a fairly versatile restaurant. Especially in Warwick, where various different rooms and floors in the huge building add options of having a room to yourself or perhaps taking over a particular area.
When I first arrived at 6pm on a Tuesday, I wasn’t surprised to see the restaurant fairly empty. I mean, it’s not peak dining time, is it? What I WAS surprised to see was that by the time we left, it was absolutely packed and not just with people grabbing a quick bite to eat, but going the whole hog – bottles of wine, several courses, the lot.
I don’t know, maybe everybody eats out all the time in Warwick and every night is party night? Or maybe the Giggling Squid there has already gained itself a loyal following of people who want to splurge on Thai food on a Tuesday. Either way, it’s a good sign and Giggling Squid is another string to Warwick’s foodie ‘bow’.
I was invited for a complimentary meal at Giggling Squid to check out the new restaurant in Warwick for my blog. I wasn’t asked to write a positive review.