I was pleased to be invited to the opening of the Giggling Squid in Henley on Thames, located just up from the river bridge, opposite the Church and Café Rouge. It is a good location; free from too many passers by yet close enough to car parks and the river so that diners can find it easily accessible.
The restaurant is laid out with a welcoming dining area that then develops into a bar area before becoming further dining area at the rear. The walls are clad with beach reclaimed wood, which gives a mix of rustic and Thai beach feel. The tables are well spaced, with an ornate candle on each one, and it gives you a nice foreign feel before you have even seen the menu.
The menu, a specially selected tasting menu with enough options on it to please everyone, was as impressive as it was inclusive, covering fish, chicken and vegetarian for both starters and mains.
I ordered the Salt and Pepper Squid, my partner ordering the vegetable Tom Yum Soup.
The Squid arrived on a decoratively laid out plate, full of bright colours; golden battered squid, finely sliced green cabbage, bright red peppers, and a beautifully hand carved yellow swede. A small dish of spicy sauce was also on the plate. There were lots of sliced chili but their heat was not fully in the sauce, so you could eat them if you wanted it a bit hotter or leave them and still have a spicy sauce.
The soup was spicy, possibly just a little too hot for an English palate, but the clarify and definition of the flavours within made it an ideal opener for a Thai meal. It had a nice thick body as was not at all watery like some soups can be.
The drinks menu is simple but covers a good range, with wines from around the world, Thai beers of Chang and Singha, spirits and a nice selection of non-alcoholic drinks. All the wines have been selected to be “best in class” yet remain reasonably priced, starting at £13 and nothing over £20. The only complaint was the lack of any Thai wine, like Monsoon Valley, but I am sure that will be added soon.
For main courses I order the Sleeping Honey Duck, and my partner the Fishing Village, a mixed seafood plate in red curry, along with two bowls of Jasmine rice.
The Sleeping Honey Duck arrived on a hot sizzling platter, that looked impressive and had a great honey glaze smell. There were plenty of thick cut duck slices, with most of the fat cut off leaving lovely red meat, sitting in a spicy honey glaze sauce with cashews. The jasmine rice matched the delicate sauce perfectly. I think coconut rice would have been too scented for this dish.
The Fishing Village came on a large plate and consisted of fish, mussels, prawns and squid in a delicate red curry sauce. The Jasmine rice soaked up the sauce and made for a nice rounded mouthful. The quality of the squid and mussels made eating a real pleasure. The plate is large, and too much conversation may let the fish get cold. Moral here is eat first, talk later.
Throughout the meal, the staff checked our glasses and topped them up for us from the ice bucket; never did we have to try and find someone, and neither did we feel we were being watched. This is real Thai service.
All the dishes were of generous portion sizes, so when it came to desert we were both a bit stumped.
The desert menu had a good selection of Thai classics, as well as a range of hand made ice creams. One took my fancy, the Black Sesame Ice Cream, which was duly ordered along with two spoons. The menu describes it as “unique to Giggling Squid, the outcome is phenonomenon”. Simply yet stylishly served, with incredible attention to detail with the dressings, the taste was awesome. The smooth ice cream had an initial taste of clotted cream and hazelnut, and then just the lightest hint of sesame at the finish. Simply amazing and confusingly light yet packed with flavor, this was the perfect finish to a great meal.
The lighting was just the right level to have a reasonable intimate feel to the table but also to be able to see around and read the menu. This is always a difficult balance and one the Giggling Squid seems to have got right from day one.
If the staff at the Giggling Squid maintain this level of service and quality of food then they are guaranteed to be a “must visit” location. Book now and you will rave about its food and real value for money for weeks after.
Giggling Squid Thai Restaurant
40 Hart Street,
Henley on Thames,