Restaurant review: Giggling Squid, Berkhamsted

PUBLISHED: 11:09 09 April 2018 | UPDATED: 11:09 09 April 2018

Duck confit in a sweet, tangy tamarind sauce (photo: Brian Arnopp Images)

Duck confit in a sweet, tangy tamarind sauce (photo: Brian Arnopp Images)

Brian Arnopp Images

Berkhamsted’s outlet of the Thai food chain draws in food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne ahead of planned county expansion

It’s no secret opening a restaurant is a risky business, as recent events in St Albans have shown. But it’s also a business where persistence, hard work and a touch of something extra – a memorable name for instance – can pay handsomely. So with Giggling Squid. Once heard, difficult to forget. The company arrived in Berkhamsted a little over 18 months ago in full flower of expansion. Food reviewers are suspicious of chains but this was early days and the idea of a Thai restaurant offering something different was intriguing. It clearly struck a chord – owners Pranee and Andy Laurillard say the group is set to grow to 30 by the end of this year. In Herts, thanks to the success of the Berko branch, they are now also looking at Harpenden and Bishop’s Stortford.

I went to the Berko launch and was taken by the variety of the dishes on offer, the presentation and the location in one of the town’s most historic buildings, impressively refurbished and a décor featuring lots of bare wood. A year and a half later, returning anonymously for a review, I find the place – on a winter Thursday night – jumping. Not much seems to have changed, with the menu as huge as I remembered, full of dishes that might seem familiar to fans of the cuisine but with various nips and tucks to make them very different. Case in point: the Thai corn fritters included in the vegetarian sharing platter (£15.25) that we chose as our starter. They came with baby gem hearts, oyster mushroom tempura and vegetable spring rolls, and are well worth trying.

Head chef, Don Sitthichai, who trained at the five-star Dusit Thani Hotel in Bangkok. is not afraid to experiment, either. For a main course, I spotted dry red curried mackerel (£14.50, right), with the fish marinaded with a sprinkle of red curry spices and turmeric then finished on the griddle before serving with wok fried water spinach and green beans. It’s a strong fish, not often seen on menus and not for everyone but using the marinade to take off some of the fishiness was a neat touch and resulted in an ideal winter dish. My fellow reviewer took a less adventurous path but was equally happy with her duck confit (£15.50, right), served in a sweet and tangy tamarind sauce. Sticky rice, served in neat little baskets, accompanied both. Dishes were artistically presented throughout, and the whole experience spoke of a properly professional approach.

Desserts looked tempting, sadly we had no room. For those that do, choices include jasmine and toasted rice ice cream or black sesame ice cream, which we were told is unique to Giggling Squid. There is also molten chocolate cake, mango and lime cheesecake and baked passion fruit Alaska, sufficient between them to justify a return.

Much of the menu, particularly the lunch list, is built around the idea of Thai tapas and that extends also to the evening offering, which features 21 starters, including the company’s noted salt and pepper squid. Our sharing platter was one of two on offer, the other being non-vegetarian. As noted, the dinner menu is large, divided into nine sections from prawns (three choices) and fish (five), curry (six), to duck (three), beef and pork (five) plus noodles and rice and side dishes like stir-fried pak choi and tenderstems. As well as stirring the appetite, it is an interesting read, with lots of information about the food and regular humorous asides from co-owner Pranee. On the papaya salad, for example, we are told this is ‘originally from north Thailand where they serve it with pickled raw fish; we don’t do that as it’s too stinky! Ours is like the Bangkok version, but if you want the original let us know.’

Giggling Squid, Berkhamsted (photo: Brian Arnopp)Giggling Squid, Berkhamsted (photo: Brian Arnopp)

The idea of Giggling Squid was born in 2002 when Pranee and her husband sat down and started putting together an authentic Thai menu based on the kind of simple, rustic, fresh Thai food that Pranee grew up with as a child in Thailand. The company took its name from one of the couple’s children, whom they called ‘squids’, who had a particularly infectious chuckle. The rest, as they say, is history.

The cost of this meal for two was £56.38 including service. This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.

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The Golden Elephant

Dry red curried mackerel marinaded with a sprinkle of red curry spices and tumeric then finished on the griddle before serving with wok fried morning glory and green beans (photo: Brian Arnopp)Dry red curried mackerel marinaded with a sprinkle of red curry spices and tumeric then finished on the griddle before serving with wok fried morning glory and green beans (photo: Brian Arnopp)

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