by Ian Manley
OK, I admit it. I got lost again. Not as bad as the summer I decided to spend eight weeks cycling from Brighton to the south of France and ended up in Belfast, but lost all the same.
I was given directions by my wife, her of the perfect internal sat nav, but ended up walking directly away from the restaurant on the so-called hottest day of the year.
It was easy to spot them as I wandered – the tribes of workers on their lunch break, clutching a bag of shop-bought sarnies and looking for a place in the sun to sit and scoff. I turned around and made my way to the Giggling Squid, envying them their al fresco plans.
I arrived hot and flustered and slightly annoyed at sitting inside on a day like this, but that soon changed as I walked into the cool, calming environment where I was quickly shown to a table and offered a drink.
Luckily George, my dining companion, was late (although not luckily for him, a parking ticket was to blame) giving me time to take everything in.
I always think that restaurants are better at night – the customers are louder and dressier, the lighting is less harsh and the general buzz of expectation adds that final twist of seasoning to the experience. But for a lunchtime visit this place had it about right, with enough Thai-inspired décor to give it a theme, but not enough for it to feel like a theme park.
The menu was well thumbed, which I took to be a good sign, and I was initially overwhelmed by the number of dishes on offer for a lunch sitting. Then I remembered that the Giggling Squid is a Thai Tapas restaurant – with the option of ‘one big dish’ if you prefer.
We stuck with the tapas, and here follows my tip for ordering, based on my own downfall: think more about how the dishes will work with each other rather than plumping for all of your favourites. With 16 options on the self-pick list, it was very easy to get carried away, and I did!
And it’s not as if I had to – as well as the pick’n’mix approach you could opt for one of the set tapas groupings, which offer four perfectly complementing dishes.
But no, I was the proverbial kid in the sweetshop and went for Lamb Massaman Curry, Spring Rolls and Tom Yum Chicken while George took a more balanced approach with Salt and Pepper Squid, Seared Scallop with Spicy Lime Dressing and Thai Dumplings.
Now we’re both hearty eaters, but this combo of six dishes (with a bowl of rice each) was more than enough for a mid-day meal.
The curry contained good, generous chunks of meat and my first taste had me instantly planning a return trip for a full ‘big dish’ serving.
The spring rolls were complemented with a decent dip and while the Tom Yum didn’t sit that well next to the curry (my fault entirely) and was not as spicy as I usually like, it was still worth ordering.
I have to say I was less impressed with the dumplings, which didn’t really give me anything back other than their integral calories, but I think they would have worked better with a different dish combo.
However, the scallop was cooked perfectly and the squid was spot on, with a beautifully seasoned, light batter.
If I’ve got one criticism of the menu it’s that some of the dishes available as part of the Tapas Set aren’t available on the pick’n’mix menu. So if you wanted red chicken curry, you’d have to choose the Starving Squid tapas set, or have it as a main meal.
But one thing I was particularly pleased about was the allergy labeling. Coeliac disease is in our family and working out which dishes are gluten free can be difficult – but not here. While the evening menu seems to offer more gluten free options, there’s still enough choice at lunchtime for those who need to be careful about what they eat.
Perhaps because of the beautiful weather the restaurant wasn’t that busy, so service was super fast, but carried out in a way that made me feel this was the norm, not the exception.
While we whiled away the afternoon over a couple of beers and some good chat, I clocked a table of six office workers come in, have a relaxed meal, pay and leave all within 47 minutes – perfect timing for a working lunch, and one that I’m sure didn’t cost them too much more than their colleagues’ al fresco, shop-bought sarnie experience.
• Giggling Squid, 57 Calverly Road, Tunbridge Wells, TN1 2UY.
Lunchtime meal for two, excluding drinks and dessert: £23
Kitchen open 12-4, 6-10.45 (9.45 on Sundays).
Takeaway menu available online at gigglingsquid.com