Originally a supper club in Brighton it’s now a chain with 32 outlets under its belt (with more on the way according to the Manager). Giggling Squid is unlike most of the burgeoning chains that sit in this market. For one it’s still very much family run, we were also told the owner has been very hands-on with the décor.
Giggling Squid directly targets ‘off prime’ locations, for instance, their London branches are in Wimbledon, Kingston and Chislehurst. So rather than do the obvious chain-thing and set-up in The Westgate they’ve opted for the old Loch Fyne location on Walton Street in Jericho.
To my mind, this is a great idea. With the build at the Radcliffe Infirmary now complete, this area of town has increased its population and footfall. It seems reasonable that Walton Street could host a couple more eateries with less competition from bigger town-centre players.
My hunch about the need for more varied eateries in this area was confirmed when we arrived at 8pm on a Wednesday to an almost full restaurant. Staff were friendly and cheery without being over-attentive, which was great.
So, to our evening
The décor is an eclectic mix of floral wallpapers, framed fabrics and prints, stencils as well as pale green banquettes gives it a light, spring feel and is markedly different from the Asian food chains in Oxford.
The building (which I’m guessing must have been something light industrial back when Lucy’s was a factory rather than a housing estate) is well dealt with. It would have been so much easier to adopt a semi-industrial vibe, but the lighter colours definitely soften the space.
Drinks-wise I went for the Kung Fu Girl Riesling (£7.95 175ml), which was a great wine – lovely and peachy without being sweet and certainly a good foil for spicy food. Tom had a bottle of Lucky Buddha (£4.50), an Asian-style lager in a great, Buddha-shaped bottle – perfectly acceptable drinking. Alcohol options were good – there’s a wine list well suited to the food, cocktails and the usual beers and cider. Given that much on the menu gives a nod to authentic Thai I was assuming there would be some Thai soft drinks, or maybe iced tea and coffee.
And on to the food
To start we shared black pepper soft shell crab (£7.50) and the intriguing-sounding watermelon salad with pork floss (£5.95). The crab was crunchy and sweet, with fantastic hot, sweet and sour dipping-style sauce. This came served with a light, clean, cucumber-based garnish. The watermelon was cooling by comparison and certainly not unpleasant. It’s just that there was no ‘floss’ to speak of, which was a bit of a disappointment, as we’d ordered on novelty value alone. Certainly not a disaster, just a bad call.
Main course wise we opted for sea bass pad cha (£15.50), lamb shank massaman (£16.50) and a papaya salad (£7.25). The sea bass and salad had that great hot/sweet/sour/salty hit you get from good Thai food. The lamb shank was fragrant and perfumed by comparison – lots of cinnamon and star anise and a fall-apart shank made for a warming, comforting plateful.
But here’s the rub: our lamb came with raw potatoes and carrots which were boiling, whilst the lamb was lukewarm by comparison. Not the biggest deal, but not ideal either. Had this not been a chain the incidental veg might just have been left in the kitchen or brought out later – after all they weren’t advertised or integral to the enjoyment of the lamb.
Too full for pud, but…
Tom opted for a nice espresso (£2.95) with a totally retro coin-shaped minty chocolate. Unlike the menu, the puddings definitely went a little off-piste (prosecco berry cheesecake anyone?!) I had a couple of scoops (£4.95), one of black sesame ice cream another of pineapple, coconut and mekhong sorbet. The first satisfyingly nutty, the sorbet suitably refreshing and pina-colada-ish albeit a bit lumpy.
I’ve been thinking hard on how to surmise this visit, so I’ll cut to the chase. Whilst nothing was vastly wrong here, there was nothing especially stand out about Giggling Squid either.
Honestly, if I want Thai food in Oxford this wouldn’t be my go-to. To me, it’s not a special occasion kind of place. But equally this evening would have cost the best part of a hundred quid for two, so not cheap-and-cheerful either.
However, if I was watching something at the Phoenix, wanted to take the kids out (good-sounding entry level to spicy food children’s menu) or meeting someone for a quick lunch (love the sound of the Thai Tapas, which sadly only happens at lunch) I wouldn’t need convincing to come and try it again.
Giggling Squid contact details
We dined as guests of Giggling Squid