Giggling Squid, Brighton – offbeat Thai

When I walked past Giggling Squid, I had a funny feeling I’d been there before, half-cut, about ten years ago, with a friend and his mother. That was quite an evening, and not conducive to long-term recall. Looking at their website, I’m not so sure. It had all the feel of a funky local independent, and appears to be a funky local chain.

Fuck it. The definition of “independent” is stretched paper-thin across music, shops, restaurants, publishing, and who knows what else. And chains aren’t axiomatically evil, whatever the strong correlations. Certainly, Giggling Squid didn’t feel like sitting down to dinner with The Man.

Duck spring rolls, at Giggling Squid

What it did feel like was a good Thai restaurant with an interestingly offbeat menu. There was plenty on there I’m not used to seeing, including a decent selection of fish, some standard curries with a twist, and some fun sounding bin ends from Quaff (a local wine merchant I’ve still not managed to get to, but heard great things about).

All of this comes caveated with the fact that really, when you get down to it, I know cock-all about Thai food. I’ve leafed through the Giant Intimidating Pink Cookbook¬†and found it to be indeed giant and intimidating, but I’ve never cooked any, and eat it perhaps a couple of times a year.

The specialty at Giggling Squid seemed to be slow cooked lamb shank curry, and I was tempted but couldn’t resist the baby squid, “filled¬†with a chicken, squid and herb stuffing. Quickly stir fried with basil and chili producing a striking spicy sauce.” Kit opted for honey-glazed duck, served sizzling over cabbage with a little orange, and we started with crispy duck spring rolls (excellent) and some semi-generic battered king prawns, lifted pleasingly with a sesame seed crust.

The squid, when it arrived, did look a little on the Lovecraft fan-art side, if I’m honest, with the squid body fanned out around a stuffing core, to look like a kind of faintly unsettling meat flower. You get over that fast, because: a) it’s tasty b) it ties in neatly with some rather impressive carved vegetable garnish.

Stuffed Baby Squid Gra Pao, at Giggling Squid

The squid itself was tender, and the stuffing light with a basil scent. The citrussy edge there played neatly with the zingy basil/chilli sauce, and the whole thing had been fried with some green beans for colour and crunch. I’d definitely order that again.

Kit’s duck was sweet without being sickly, and the the greens wilted down into the sauce rather neatly on the sizzling dish. No fireworks, but a well-prepared piece of meat. It was not, perhaps, quite as good as the duck rolls, which were a slight but welcome twist on the classic crispy duck and pancakes. Plainly-seasoned and fall-apart tender duck was served in spring roll pastry with plenty of crisp and flake to it, with a nice balance of shredded greens. There’s only so much to say about duck spring rolls, but these were good ones.

Sesame battered prawns, at Giggling SquidThe rest of the menu looks worth exploring if (almost certainly when) we go back. I’d be keen to try some of the curries and fish dishes.

The ambience is pleasant enough – although on the crowded side – that it’s a decent venue. In fact, it’s kind of cool: a three-floor converted town house, a little rambling, with tables crammed into any spare nook going, and only the statutory minimum of off-the-shelf Buddha statuettes.

It’s loud when it’s full, and space is a little tight, but I can’t really complain – we had a lovely evening.

As a side note: Phaidon have a new Thai book just out this spring. Does anyone know if it’s worth picking up? They’re usually credible, and publish some of my favourite cookbooks, but I wonder if I’d be better off with the pink one?

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