The Giggling Squid, Billericay: Thai-Fusion Feasts
The Giggling Squid is a restaurant name that stands out. It’s kind of silly but also intriguing as it doesn't reveal what nationality or type of food it serves. In truth, it was the nickname of one of the three children of owners Thai-born Pranee and her husband Andy. They began serving their tapas-style Thai food in Hove, but again, you wouldn't know this from the outside of their 29 restaurants (soon to be 30 when the Bishops Stortford outlet opens) as most are in characterful high street venues often painted grey (once seen as dull and currently very fashionable but the backlash must come). In general, the interiors also belie traditional Thai-style decor with delicate floral motifs and walls painted in pale English country garden shades of sage (the Kingston branch features swanky pistachio (or maybe sage) leather banquettes). Although decorations from south-east Asia also feature.
Essex is about to get its third Giggling Squid when the Bishop's Stortford branch opens next month. Brentwood also has one, but we went to our nearest in Billericay, a place name that always makes me think of Bianca in Eastenders shouting 'Rickaaayyy. The commuter town offers a countryside location with the ease of London in half an hour, so if you live in the city a lunch trip here would make a feasible day out as for now, there are no branches in the city itself.
Giggling Squid doesn't take itself too seriously blending traditional Thai-food with dishes such as chicken wings. It could all go horribly wrong, combining authentic and Thai-style food in chintzy surroundings, but it doesn't. Patient staff know lots about each dish and don’t mind being asked zillions of questions which helped my partner and I choose. We got off to a good start with a dish of prawn crackers, £3.50, not bright vivid pink like Skips (now referred to as ‘heritage snacks’) or the plastic ones you get with Chinese takeaways but softer, more guava (or Germaline if you prefer something less pretentious) with moreish dipping sauces including one very hot like Encona and one sweet chilli. Already it was worth the drive.
Soon the table was covered with bowls to share: chicken pad Thai, £8.95, fresh and colourful but with a tamarind sauce that made it too sweet to be the right accompaniment to the rich dishes we’d ordered. Showstoppers such as crispy pak maew, (pictured, below left) a Thai green leaf treated turned into a good looking tempura with a peanut-laden curry sauce and Fishing Village, £13.95, a vision of smooth orange (actually red curry) sauce with squid, prawns, and creamy coconut milk ramped up with sweet basil and kaffir lime leaves, needed just a plain steamed rice.
Desert turned out to be the best type of comfort food. Caramelised mango cake, £5.95, (pictured, above right) a sweet, warm and buttery sponge served with a ball of vanilla ice cream was the kind of dish that makes you want to lick the plate.
The menu contains personal notes enthusing over new dishes or ingredients used, which only a personable restaurant such as this can get away with. I’d love to know what the other two children’s nicknames are…
The Giggling Squid will be open on Christmas day, from 10am-4pm, £60pp.