The UK’s love of Thai food shows no sign of abating and appears to be unshaken by the recent downturn in casual dining across the country.
Thai restaurants and kitchens within pubs historically didn’t anglicise their food quite as much as their Indian (or more often than not Bangladeshi) high street counterparts and in recent years a number of restaurants have ratcheted up the authenticity introducing adventurous dishes beyond the beloved curries and noodle dishes.
Giggling Squid is a great example of a next-generation UK Thai restaurant and a local success story. The first branch opened in Hove in 2009, and now there are 23 others, including a spot in The Lanes on Market Street.
It costs a few squid more than your average Thai pub grub (although the lunchtime deals are excellent value) but the difference in quality is marked, and when combined with more imaginative touches makes for a much-improved dining experience.
On our visit we shared a very cosy, and apparently highly-coveted, two-person dining area, tucked away from two floors of busy dining areas. We tore through the now familiar pre-starter staple of spicy prawn crackers – a snack so insanely moreish they make a tube of Pringles seem like unsalted rice cakes.
There are a few new starter options at Giggling Squid, as part of a new spring/summer menu including the enticing watermelon salad with pork floss. The dried shredded pork was described as being ‘a bit like cotton candy’, and on the face of it a must for all melon-loving carnivores with a sweet tooth. This excellent little starter perfectly matched the juicy melon with the densely-flavoured, almost smokey, pork, with a hit of fried shallots and zesty lime juice, supported by fresh coriander and mint. A super little combination of flavours and fresher than a seafront promenade on a windy May morning.
Our second starter was another new face on the menu – Crispy Pak Maew. This inspired alternative to a tempura starter is a lightly-fried clump of the little known leafy Thai vegetable Pak Maew.
A similarly little-known fact is that everyone would be far happier if more veg was fried, and we’d unquestionably see more smiling faces if they were all cooked as well this peanut sauce-covered beauty.
The main courses at Giggling Squid are also an interesting bunch. Carefully created and thought through. And a significant step forward from the choose-a-curry/stir-fry-chose-a-meat-style of it’s forebears in pubs and standard Thai restaurants across the UK.
I loved the beef rib in coconut sauce. The hunk of meat was so tender and tasted like it had been gently cooking since Thailand was Siam, and plenty of plump exotic mushrooms bathed in a creamy coconut Tom kha-inspired sauce.
My dining partner has the chilli-tolerance of a dragon and for the main event ordered a hake dry green curry. Our waiter tried to issue a gentle warning by alluding to the intensity of the dish but she was as keen as mustard, or more accurately as keen as Scoville-scale shattering chillies. The absence of coconut milk seemed to make this an even more fiery beast than the traditional green curry. And in addition to the heat the curry was buzzing with Thai herbs and spices, lemongrass, galangal, lime, and Thai basil.
A brief straw-poll among staff revealed we’d be classified as clinically befuddled if we chose anything to finish other than the molten chocolate dessert. They were right. It was gooey dream of high-cocoa dark chocolate goodness and oozed its way to being my favourite pudding of the 21st century, and will take some beating.
My chilli-chomping companion was flagging and could only manage the curious, but enjoyably buttery, black sesame ice cream.
Full disclosure: although a tad greedy, we ordered a portion of their showstopping salt and pepper squid with our main courses. We felt it would have been remiss of us not to. When in Rome/Bangkok/Brighton...
11 Market Street, Brighton