Giggling Squid – Chichester*

Giggling Squid has recently set up a restaurant in Chichester and as somebody who is completely and utterly obsessed with Thai food, you can bet that I was first in line when they opened their doors. Almost literally, because on the 15th of June I was invited to the opening night of their Chichester branch.

The Giggling Squid opening night in Chichester was a truly local occurrence where businesses from the surrounding area were invited to sample canapes, drinks and get to know the faces behind the business. The canapes included deliciously creamy Chicken Satay, Spring Rolls and Prawns amongst others, and we enjoyed the flavours so much that a few days later we booked a table with some friends, to see what their full menu was made of.

Disclosure: I was invited to Giggling Squid to sample their summer menu in exchange for this review, but I made the booking before I was invited because daaaaaaamn their menu looked delicious!

I first discovered Giggling Squid when I was in Bath back in February and was sold the moment the chefs whipped up a Tom Kha for me even though it wasn’t on the menu. But until the opening night of the Chichester branch, I’d never given much thought to the people behind the business before. I suppose it’s a habit when you come across a restaurant with multiple branches—you assume it’s a faceless chain, but Giggling Squid isn’t like that and if you step into one of their restaurants you’ll see what I mean.

There are personal touches everywhere in Chichester, from the manager Helen, who checks on each table, to the framed hand-pressed flowers that the owner created which hang on the wall, to the delicately hand-painted flower which takes pride of place on the walls alongside stencilled artwork. The owners attend every launch and get to know both their team and the local community, in each location. For example – on the night of the launch I was merely a casual observer standing in the corner stuffing my face full of Satay, and it was easy to establish from my people watching, that this isn’t a faceless chain restaurant, it’s a family run restaurant that just happens to have numerous locations.

The Chichester branch of Giggling Squid is located on The Hornet one way system, on the ground floor of the building where The Observer used to be. For those who are reading this and thinking, “Where on Earth is Chichester?”, or “The Observ-what?” Chichester is an old Roman city which also happens to be my hometown (you can read more about it here) and The Observer is our local newspaper.

That building lay empty for a significant period of time prior to Giggling Squid’s arrival. A sad occurrence, but one that happens as business rates and rental costs increase. There was much speculation in the local community about what would occupy the building, with many rumours heading in the way of a Sainsbury’s local – so when speculation was put aside and it was confirmed that it would be a Giggling Squid, the local community was chuffed.

As Giggling Squid moved in they injected some much-needed life into the building. What was once dark and forgotten is now positively chic and filled with an abundance of natural light. Neutral colours line the walls with pops of green on the panelling. Large open windows let the late summer light flood in and the ceilings and the occasional wall are lined with floral displays. It’s nothing short of stunning and very much brings the feeling of outside, in. It has the dining atmosphere of eating alfresco on a warm summer’s evening. The feeling you get when you’re enjoying a laid-back meal with a glass of wine surrounded by friends, climbing plants and a warm breeze – an environment you want to be in. Our dinner reservations took place on Wednesday and judging by the number of people that were already dinning when we arrived that evening – it seems that everybody else thinks so too!

But now… The bit that I know you’re all curious to hear read about: the food!

The menu at Giggling Squid is a fusion of Thai flavours accessible to Western palettes. You know how it gets, you get so used to Roast Dinners and Fish and Chips that if you put a bowl of traditional Thai Boat Noodles in front of someone and told them it’s delicious but has blood in – they’d be hesitant to try. But at Giggling Squid you don’t need to worry about that because the menu accommodates a variety of tastes. The menu at Giggling Squid includes well known Thai classics such as Pad Thai, Green Curry and Penang, but it also includes dishes such as Sleeping Honey Duck with Orange’ and ‘Pork Ribs’. There are meat and fish dishes, stir-fries and curries. There are spicy dishes, creamy dishes and everything in between, so you’ll be hard-pressed not to find something that tempts you, and as you sit perusing the menu pondering what to order, the scents that waft from the open kitchen will tantalize you.

Pro tip: Tom Kha and Tom Yum soups aren’t on the menu (you can get a noodle variation of Tom Yum on the lunch menu) but my insider knowledge knows that these soups are on the tills, and I’ve been reassured that you can absolutely order them, so enjoy!

We started our meal with Prawn Crackers to start, which came with a sweet chilli dipping sauce. I was pleasantly surprised that this wasn’t your typical orange-coloured sweet chilli sauce from a bottle, but freshly made with chunks of colourful chillies in. The menu says that the crackers are “spicy and hard to stop eating!” and they weren’t wrong. Our crackers were gone in seconds.

When it came to choosing our mains and starters, S and I couldn’t decide what to go for so we ordered some dishes and shared them.

For a starter, S chose the Chicken Wings, a menu item that Pranee (the co-founder) was hesitant to include when the chef came up with the idea, but after trying them their place on the menu was solidified, and it’s easy to see why. The wings are cooked so tenderly that the meat falls off the bones, and this is topped with a punch of flavour which comes from the chilli, garlic, fresh coriander and black pepper.

I was torn over what to order because let’s face it – we all know how indecisive I am when it comes to food! But in the end, I chose the Pork Dumplings which were filled with tender pork, steamed and served with a light soy and rice vinegar dip and were delicious. Not too heavy—the perfect amount to get the taste buds warmed up ready for the main event.

For his main, S decided to branch out from his usual curry favourites and instead ordered Giggling Squid’s ‘Beef Rib with Coconut Sauce’ which was divine.

If you’ve ever tried Tom Kha the flavour is a lot like that – coconutty and filled with mushrooms. The only difference is that Tom Kha is a soup and the sauce on this was much thicker and coated the meat beautifully.

I went for Beef Penang.

It took me a while to decide, obviously for the reason I gave above, but the moment it came to the table I knew I’d made the right choice. Deliciously thick red curry, flavoured with coconut milk and lime leaves which had been finely sliced and sprinkled throughout. The consistency and flavours were perfect and I almost couldn’t bring myself to share it with S.

*almost*

Throughout the meal, we sampled the drinks menu. S stuck with Singha because dear lord he loves that beer

Whilst myself and Son tried out some of the cocktail menu. I say some because I started with the ‘Thai G&T’ which is made from Kaffir lime leaf and ginger infused London dry gin, but after trying the ‘Thai Coconut’, I stuck with that.

The ‘Thai Coconut’ cocktail was made with coconut flavoured rum, gin, and was topped with a squeeze of lime and a dash of Fever Tree ginger ale. It smelt like sun-cream, you know the expensive type that feels like it instantly transports you to a beach when you smell it? But it tasted delicious and instantly became my drink of choice.

I was on the edge over whether to order dessert, but the waitress’ passion for pudding meant that I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t.

S chose the Molten Chocolate Dessert pictured above, which is a chocolate lava cake served warm with vanilla ice-cream, whereas I went for the caramelised mango cake.

It’ll never replace my affection for the classic Thai dessert of mango and sticky rice, but it was a close second because the flavours were divine and I devoured it in seconds. It was warm, buttery and you could taste the flavour of the mango – even through the vanilla ice-cream which accompanied it.

So, what are my overall thoughts on the Giggling Squid?

I’ll most definitely be back! The flavours are consistently good and the staff are incredibly passionate—from talking about the flavours they tried during the menu sampling which took place before opening, to the animation in their voices when you ask them what they’d personally recommend on the menu. It’s clear that the staff are knowledgable about both Giggling Squid’s menu, and about working there.