Interview with an Innovator

Giggling Squid’s Pranee Laurillard: ‘There are definitely different patterns in diners’ eating habits’

The Thai chain’s co-founder on the upcoming spring/summer menu and the restaurant’s most popular dish.

29 March 2018
asianchainsrestaurantsThai

Laurillard on Paper – CV

  • First entered the restaurant biz with her husband Andrew in 2002 , opening Mai Ped Ped Ped in Brighton
  • Giggling Squid soon followed in Hove (later, the original was renamed with the same moniker)
  • The brand now has 23 locations, with a goal to reach 30 by the end of 2018

There’s been a lot of news recently about casual dining restaurants closing branches. Giggling Squid is not one of them. Since starting out with a small spot in Brighton, the brand has expanded to 23 locations, with plans to reach 30 by the end of the year. Just a few weeks ago, AlixPartners named the chain as the fifth fastest-growing eating out company in the UK, a tribute to its successful strategy of infiltrating market towns over cities.

Part of that success is no doubt down to the re-energised interest in Thai food that’s spilling over from independents into chains. But it’s also thanks to Pranee Laurillard, whose takes on her native cuisine have found just the right balance between authentic and innovative. “It sounds unambitious, but I just wanted to focus on making sure attention to detail was given to the food and that guests left happy,” she says.

Laurillard has previously described the initial idea for the menu as ‘Thai tapas,’ served in environments that avoid the stereotypical ethnic décor. “I wanted to show beautiful food in a beautiful restaurant with lots of personal charm,” she says. “We all like beautiful things in life after all.”

Where did my interest in food come from? It has got to be from my mum. She used to cook every meal from fresh veg and meat from the local market. She often showed me tips of what to look for when buying meat, fish and fruit or veg; for example, look for a good weight in your fruit by tossing it in the air. If it feels heavy when it lands in your palm, you’ve got a good one!

I work every day – no weekend or 9-5. I work in between cooking meals and kids’ bedtime and whenever the chance allows. I know it sounds awful, but to me it’s not. I really love being involved in all aspects of growing the business.

My family’s favourite dish is the salt and pepper squid, which happens to be the one our guests love too. It really is so good!

There are definitely different patterns in diners’ eating habits. For example, guests in Brighton clearly take much shorter time to start and finish. It’s a vibrant party town with lots going on in terms of nightlife. They come to have the food they love and then head straight out partying!

The ingredients I’m playing with right now are pak maew [bitter melon tendrils], pomelo [citrus fruit] and crispy rice.

The spring/summer menu launching on April 11th has so many dishes that I can genuinely say I’m really proud of. The green-leafed pak maew is very unique – it’s hard to get hold of this veg even in big cities in Thailand! Imagine the locals in the far north of Thailand picking the leaves which grow along their fences for their family meals…

For the last menu, we launched a new dish called beef rib larb, which has lots of flavours from chilli flakes, lime juice and other punchy Thai ingredients. Sadly, it wasn’t received as well as I thought. Thai people love the flavour of larb, but I now see it’s a fairly particular flavour combination.

I look at food perhaps from a different perspective. You either like it or don’t like it. If you like it, you decide to use it whenever you fancy in your cooking – not because of a trend or because someone else says it should be popular. When it becomes a trend, it only lasts a few months, but food is real, and for me it’s down to personal taste.

The biggest mistake that people make when launching a restaurant or a new dish is being impatient.

I love to cook, especially for my family. That’s when I get the most satisfaction out of it. 

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