Melissa Blease goes behind the menu to talk to Pranee Laurillard co-founder of the burgeoning Giggling Squid brand of Thai restaurants, on the eve of the opening of its new Bath restaurant
Are fish and chips, pie and mash and even the most celebrated British favourite the chicken tikka masala set to be relegated to the file marked ‘retro classics’? Very possibly.
According to recent polls conducted by the BBC Good Food Nation Survey, The Telegraph and national diner discount app tastecard, Thai cuisine is taking over our tastebuds and dominating our foodie daydreams – and it isn’t difficult to work out why. Not as carb-rich or red meat reliant as traditional British dishes and less heavy on the rich sauces than Indian or Italian cuisine, Thai food tends to be packed with vitamin-and mineral-rich vegetables and liberally infused with all manner of herbs and spices that are widely acknowledged to offer health-boosting benefits, such as lemongrass, galangal, chillies, turmeric and garlic. And above all, it tastes darn good.
If you haven’t succumbed to the life-affirming (let alone apparently fashionable) delights of a really good green curry, or a comforting pad Thai, or a bracing Som Tum lately, you really have to get with the programme – which really isn’t difficult to do in Bath, where we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to our options for getting all Thai’d up. From grand, glamorous Thai institutions to speedy takeaways by way of all manner of cheery Thai canteen-diners, we could eat Thai every day for a fortnight without visiting the same place twice (or blowing the bank – Thai food is reliably wallet-friendly). But there’s a bright, bold new kid on the Thai block bringing a new dimension to our Thai food scene this autumn.
Having stylishly, sensitively refurbished the auspicious surroundings of the Grade II-listed Bluecoat House (a cornerstone of the soon-to-be-unveiled Saw Close redevelopment), Giggling Squid is proud of its USP that promises ‘staggeringly good Thai food.’ And while the new Bath branch is part of a chain of 20 plus branches around the UK, it’s most definitely not one of those big, bland assembly line operations that are all-too-increasingly beginning to dominate city centres – this is a success story with a very personal backstory, headed up by a down-to-earth couple.
Back in 2002, Giggling Squid founder Pranee Laurillard sat down with her husband Andy in the basement of a tiny fisherman’s cottage in Brighton (now the Giggling Squid Brighton branch) and started putting together an authentic Thai menu based on the kind of simple, rustic, fresh Thai food that Pranee grew up with as a child in Thailand. She says: “I’m no good at the 9 to 5 routine, and I longed to have my own restaurant that showcases a little taste of my home. In Thailand, meal times are all about lots of dishes that everyone shares, so that’s what I based our menus on. The name of the restaurant, meanwhile, was inspired by one of my three children: he was a wriggler and a giggler, and there we have it!”
Pranee’s choice of location for the new Bath site was inspired by emotional rather than entirely corporate motivations, too. “Bath is such a beautiful city, how can anyone not fall in love with it?” she says. “When the Saw Close site came on to our radar, there was no chance of us passing on it, and we’re very lucky to have had the opportunity to take it.”
There’s no chance of the building with a fascinating history (Bluecoat House was originally a school founded in 1711 to offer free education to Anglican children, before being rebuilt in a Northern Renaissance style in 1860 and eventually turned into offices in the 1920s) having all traces of its structural biography erased either. A quick image-shuffle around existing Giggling Squid restaurants proves that Pranee prides herself on turning remarkable and/or curious buildings into unique eateries by pushing their architectural quirks to the fore.
“We believe that how the restaurant looks is as just important as the food and drink we serve, with the décor adding to the atmosphere to create a warm and welcoming environment,” says Pranee. “We are a Thai restaurant but we keep the traditional Thai influences subtle, from the stunning ornate lights and simple bamboo weaving to decorative floral elements. We leave the Buddhas in the temples where they belong.”
Little wonder, then, that Giggling Squid is set to offer broad appeal to a variety of customers from first dates, to friends getting together, to families too: “Children love the Little Tapas for Little People section of the menu, and parents love the adventurous nature of how we cater to young palates”. Ah yes, we’ve said the T-word – and in this instance, we’re not using lazy shorthand for Thai, nor are we referring to anything with Spanish influences . . . apart from when it comes to matters of size.
As we are indeed still riding the tide of the small plate revolution that’s dominated modern menus for the last decade or so, the Thai tapas selection at Giggling Squid, waltzes around classic and imaginative options, all of which come in at under a fiver each for what a friend in Brighton reassures me are generous portions, to say the least. Of this selection, Pranee says that the restaurant’s signature dish of salt and pepper squid is perennially popular, with the flavours of the spring onion, a hint of chilli and ground pepper working well together, coated in a light, fluffy batter. But there are sturdier options too, with One Big Dish priced at around £7 – £8, and the Two Dish Meal Combi offering exceptional value for money for a feast that includes a tapas dish and a chicken, prawn- or vegetable-based main.
“Slow-cooked lamb shank massaman is big a hit due to the balance of the creaminess of coconut and tangy flavour of tamarind partnering perfectly with the spices of cinnamon and star anise,” says Pranee.
I can see why Giggling Squid is going to bring a smile to our faces. But what does Pranee hope the experience is going to present to Bathonians? “We’re offering bold Thai flavours and authentic cooking techniques created by talented Thai chefs and freshly prepared on site,” she says. “From lunchtime tapas to delicious curries, salads, rice and noodles, I’m looking forward to showing it off.”
And we’re eagerly anticipating saying sawadee to the merry mollusc too.
Giggling Squid, Bluecoat House, Saw Close, Bath BA1 1EY; web: gigglingsquid.com