Featured Restaurant: Giggling Squid

8th February 2019

296-298 High St • Berkhamsted • HP4 1AH • 01442 866087

Reviewed by Jill Glenn

The first Giggling Squid opened in a converted fisherman’s cottage in Brighton in 2002; now this small chain of Thai restaurants is steadily spreading its way across the southern part of the country… most recently it has opened in Bishops Stortford, and locally there are branches in Beaconsfield and Berkhamsted.

I eat at the latter, on a snowy night when the atmosphere inside is, given the weather, surprisingly buzzy. The décor, with its low beamed ceilings, exposed brickwork, pale-plastered walls and tables made from timber planks, is elegantly simple.

We start with Salt and Pepper Squid – tender squid lightly coated in flour then deep fried until it fluffs up; ‘the moreish flavour,’ says the chatty menu, ‘comes from a scattering of salt, ground black pepper, spring onion and sliced chilli’ – and Moo Ping: grilled marinated pork on skewers served on lightly picked vegetables, with a Tamarind dipping sauce. ‘Popular Thai street food; loved by all ages and at all times of the day.’

The squid – tender and clean, in a light, crispy coating – arrives piled high on a scallop shell, with an accompanying sauce that’s smooth and glossy. This is as perfect an example of the dish as you could wish for. Its only downside is the uneven number of pieces – neither of us wants to miss out, so we have to halve the last one Very Carefully Indeed.

The pork skewers (beautifully moist and savoury) prove to be a perfect combination with the squid; very complementary flavours. The zing of the veg, with the richness of the thick sauce, studded with chillies, sets my mouth on fire. In a good way. The rustic glazed plates, in sludgy tones, are aesthetically pleasing in their own right, and show off the food perfectly.

For the main courses we’re drawn to Hake with Dry Green Curry (‘a playground for classic Thai ingredients: grachai, lemongrass, galangal, lime leaf and green curry spices’) and Stir Fry Pak Maew with chicken; Pak Maew is a leafy green and the dish is described as ‘traditional Thai with fresh turmeric and red curry paste’. But there’s a problem. Our waiter is convinced the dishes won’t go well together; there’s not much sauce, and everything is very spicy. After much discussion he concludes that he’ll ask the kitchen to add some coconut to the Dry Green Hake, ‘to soften the flavours’; he laughs a lot, but he is very serious about getting the right meal for us.

And he does. Not only do the main courses look beautiful (if it’s true that you eat with your eyes, then we are immediately satisfied) but the flavour… Do you ever sit in a restaurant and think ‘we’ve ordered well?’ This is one of these occasions. The hake, such a meaty fish, stands up brilliantly to its robust, full-flavoured sauce. They should offer this variant on the menu; it would be a real winner. But ask for it. Tell them I sent you.

There’s plenty of texture. The Pak Maew leaves and stalks are very fresh and crunchy, maybe a little stringy here and there, but I can forgive that for the overall effect; they go well with the moist chicken, and a thin jus with a good kick. Stir Fry Pak Choi and Tenderstems plus Jasmine rice complete the feast.

My guest concludes with Caramelised Mango Cake, very light and buttery and not too sweet, while I can’t resist the Black Sesame ice cream. It’s a colour I can’t put a name to, like something off a Farrow & Ball paint chart, and it’s equally hard to pin down the flavour – earthy? ashy? – but it’s definitely moreish. Oh look: I finished it, and all I was trying to do was work out what it tasted of.

Like the entire menu and the restaurant itself, it’s a little twist on the ordinary; Thai, yes, but not as we know it...

STARTERS: £5.95-£9.95 • MAINS: £8.95-£16.50
DESSERTS: £4.95-35.95 • HOUSE WINE: £16.75

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