With flavours that pack a punch and interiors to match, can this Thai-inspired restaurant bring a smile to our faces? Roger Payne finds out
Let’s start with the name. Giggling Squid was cooked up by co-founders Andy Laurillard and his wife Pranee as a nickname for their eldest child, later putting it over the door of their first restaurant when it opened in Brighton in 2002. Eighteen years and close to 40 restaurants later, the name, and chain, has expanded across much of central and southern England, so it was only a matter of time before Cambridge residents got to sample its tasty Thai-inspired treats.
The Wheeler Street location was previously Jamie’s Italian, but it’s been given a bright, airy makeover with floral decorations in abundance and The Old Library’s domed ceiling flooding the main restaurant area with light. It feels fresh and inviting, much like the menu itself.
If you want to make your visit even more special, you can opt to dine in one of the large birdcages
If you want to make your visit even more special, you can opt to dine in one of the large birdcages. Typically reserved for special occasions, there’s space in a birdcage for up to six people and while they’re bedecked with (plastic) flowers, the interior designers stopped short of adding a stuffed parrot or two. It’s probably for the best.
Our quartet visited just five days after the restaurant had opened its doors and so, by their own admission, the staff were still finding their feet. Even so, with the venue relatively quiet when we arrived for lunch, I would have expected to get our first round of drinks a little quicker than we did, especially when three of them only required the top taking off a bottle. Naturally, we blamed our cocktail-drinking colleague for the 10-minute wait. For the record, she chose a Silky Pink: a lychee martini which was rather too sweet for my beer-aged palate but went down very well with her. So well, in fact, she had a couple more, presumably to check the consistency of flavour. Ahem.
I’d previously visited the Squid in Bishop’s Stortford for dinner and was expecting to be presented with the same menu in Cambridge, but it transpires that lunch and dinner menus vary. Lunchtimes are a tapas-based affair, whereas evening meals follow a more traditional route with starters and mains.
It provides a great way of sampling some of the main Thai flavours and themes – ideal if you don’t want to be bamboozled with too much choice
A festive menu will also be running from 23 November until the end of the year, providing three courses for less than £30. Looking at the dishes on offer, it provides a great way of sampling some of the main Thai flavours and themes – ideal if you don’t want to be bamboozled with too much choice, or haven’t tried the cuisine before. While we’re on the subject of specials, there’s also an impressive vegan menu, arguably the most comprehensive I’ve seen in any restaurant – and it certainly looks like a great option if you’re a vegan who’s tired of being presented with strictly limited options while dining out.
Back to lunch and as we munched our way through some prawn crackers, we pored over the multitude of tapas dishes on offer. There are two ways you can go here, either choose individual items or go for one of the tapas sets, which comprise three dishes, plus a jasmine rice. We went for the former option and, being struck down by crippling individual indecision, decided to order a wide range of dishes to share between the four of us. A flurry of small but beautifully presented plates duly arrived containing delights including salt and pepper squid, pork dumplings, chicken satay, prawns wok fried with ginger, spring rolls and sleeping honey duck. We also ordered the magnificently named Golden Money Bags, which are deep fried chicken and herb dumplings and come highly recommended. We each had our own personal favourite (mine being the salt and pepper squid) but agreed that all dishes were incredibly tasty; no plate was left half eaten.
The beauty of tapas is that it doesn’t all come out at once, so there’s a nice pace to the eating – you probably end up eating much more than you think, too! But if you like something a lot, you just order another plate of it – hence why we (I) ordered three rounds of salt and pepper squid.
When we visited, the Squid was very much the hot ticket in town, and at the time of writing it seems as though that trend has continued
If truth be told, the tapas dishes alone would have been enough for lunch, but we also opted to each pick a dish from the One Big Dish section of the lunch menu. As the name suggests, these are somewhat larger and can’t really be shared. I went for the beef and aubergine with jasmine rice which was very tasty and had quite a kick to it.
I’ve never been a huge fan of desserts, preferring instead to round a meal off with a drink of some description. Having polished off a couple of bottles of Chang beer with the food, I turned my attention to the Signature Whisky Selection and stumbled across an absolute gem in Nikka Miyagikyo, a Japanese single malt. Smooth, light and tasting very clean, it proved to be the perfect finish to an excellent meal.
When we visited, the Squid was very much the hot ticket in town, and at the time of writing it seems as though that trend has continued. Lunchtime bookings don’t appear to be a major problem, but if you want an evening meal at a popular time, you’d be advised to get organised and book at least a couple of weeks in advance. It’s worth getting your sleeping honey ducks in a row, though, as a real treat awaits.