I tend to be on a plane to somewhere, on book promotion, once a fortnight on average around the year, and a lot of people ask me how I cope. Well, I always reply, good food and nice booze goes a long way to oiling the wheels… and fortunately I’m in a profession which, like the Army marches on his stomach – although with the amount of alcohol consumed in the publishing world, it also stomps on its liver…
This past month I’ve been in Singapore then on tour in India, starting in Delhi which has some awesome hotels – I’ve stayed previously at the splendid Oberoi and this time at the even more splendid Imperial, followed by the great but funky modern Vivanta Taj in Bangalore (which could be a nicer city than present if they ever finish building it) and then on to the sublimely good Taj Palace in Mumbai – a glorious city marred by the world’s worst traffic jams. Think London’s bad in the rush hour? Too us two and a half hours to cover ten miles there!
But my top gastronomic marks of the entire trip go to two Singapore restaurants. The breakfast room of the Pan Pacific – a glorious hotel with a very cool bar – provides the widest choice of breakfast I’ve ever seen in any hotel anywhere in the world, and delightful staff. And for dinner, Sky On 57 which actually sits in a boat astride three 57 storey high-rises like a modern Noah’s Ark!
Sky On 57 did not start very promisingly. ‘We can only hold the table for 15 minutes, sir, and you have to agree to spend a minimum of one hundred dollars,’ we were informed, starkly. My publisher Geoff and I nearly decided not to go from the receptionist’s attitude. Which would have been a pity. We were served stunning, original modern food, including an entire, beautifully presented lightly curried lobster by the best and most charming waiter I’ve ever encountered. As for spending one hundred dollars – I think we did that on our starters alone. I was very happy that was one tab I did not have to pick up….
This past week I’ve been in Spain’s Costa Del Sol, doing research for a future Roy Grace novel. One thing I love about the Marbella area is the quality of restaurants. I had terrific meals this time at Mozaic in Puerto Banus – the best sashimi starter I’ve ever had, Swedish owned Los Bandidos on the waterfront, a real favourite of mine: Have the Skägen Toast starter – it is to die for – and for really good value Italian food in a delightful setting with charming staff, Da Bruno is fabulous.
But now back to the UK and what better to cheer up a damp winter day than a spicy Thai lunch at the Giggling Squid in Church Road, Hove. I’m always wary of restaurants that are part of a chain, but this place doesn’t have that air about it. When you walk into the small room it looks as if someone just finished assembling the furniture from flat packs about an hour earlier. But there is no hastily assembled feeling about the food. I’ve eaten here three times in the past year, and recently had a superb takeway as well, and every experience has been a good one.
I love a lot of Oriental food, in particular many of the Chinese regions and Indian regions, but Thai remains my firm favourite, in part because of its lightness, in part because its spices, even for the hottest curries, are there to bring out the flavour of the ingredients rather than mug them. And nowhere more than at The Giggling Squid.
It has a relatively small menu, which I much prefer to a vast tome to have to wade through. Touches of humour on a menu can be irritating and smug in some restaurants, but here they make me smile. Hungry Squid – a set tapas (Taipas? – sorry!) of Chicken Green Curry, Jasmine Rice, Handmade Juicy Chicken Satay (as written) and Mix Vegetables Stir Fry, was all deftly cooked and prepared with an attractive modern presentation, as was Starving Squid – Thai Dumplings, lighter than many dim sums, Thai Spring Rolls, Jasmine Rice and Red Chicken Curry, and Wealthy Squid – Lamb Massaman Curry, Shredded Duck Spring Rolls, Jasmine Rice and Prawns On Toast. All the dishes cooked to perfection and bursting with flavours. I love their version of Pad Thai, a great dish, as is their Vegetable Tempura and their Salt And Pepper Squid.
As you’d expect in a Thai restaurant, there is plenty of choice for those who prefer vegetarian. The wine list is small, and limited, but in general I think beer goes better with Thai food and on offer are three excellent choices, Singha, Chang and Tiger.
I’ve often said that atmosphere and ambience are as much a part of a restaurant as the food, and on these two, The Giggling Squid feels like it has had an atmosphere bypass – and I’m afraid it is where the chain aspect shows through. The room is flat and on the occasions I’ve been the staff are pretty flat too. I’d break my rule and go back there yet again, though, because the food is so very good. Just a shame the staff can’t take their cue from the joint’s name, and have a giggle or two themselves.