Tuesday 10 March 2015

A big night in with Papa John's

There are fewer better ways to enjoy a Saturday night than having friends round, ordering takeaway, putting on a DVD or perhaps playing a board game. And if it's takeaway, for my boyfriend and I it really has to be pizza.
Some takeaway pizzas can be a bit hit and miss and I've had a few disappointing experience in the past where they have turned up a bit cold, the ingredients haven't seemed so great, and my boyfriend once had a delivery where they brought the wrong pizza entirely. So I was pleased to see that Papa John's has become the first pizza chain in the UK to offer a quality guarantee - they promise all their ingredients are 100% fresh and if you're not completely happy with your pizza, you get a replacement free of charge. And I was even more pleased when the nice people at Papa John's asked me to review some of their pizzas and enjoy a night in on them!
I actually met Papa John himself some years ago - in my 'previous life' as a journalist, I interviewed John Schnatter, the American businessman who founded the company in 1984 and later brought it to the UK. It was about ten years ago but I still remember him as charming, enthusiastic and passionate about good quality pizzas.
Right from the start he insisted that the pizza dough should always be made fresh and never frozen and many of their ingredients have a specific provenance such as vine-ripened tomatoes from California and black olives from the Herrera region of Spain. They use serenade chillies as they have found these are the best kind to retain their taste and strength on a pizza - and I can certainly vouch for that!

Spicy pulled pork pizza
One of the pizzas we tried was Papa John's brand new spicy pulled pork pizza. I love pulled pork but my goodness this was spicy... I could see the dried chilli flakes on top and gingerly took a bite.... and then had to give the rest of the slice to my boyfriend and drink some water! I am the first to admit though that I am no good with spicy food (when it comes to curry, it's a chicken korma for me). My boyfriend on the other hand absolutely loved this pizza. And that is high praise indeed - he has fairly plain tastes and always, and I mean always, has a margherita pizza. He never wants to try any of the meat ones, even when they contain meats he otherwise likes - but he is converted to the Papa John's spicy pulled pork pizza. I was amazed as this is genuinely the first pizza he has ever preferred to a margherita!

Cheese and tomato pizza

We had a cheese and tomato pizza too of course, and I think this is a good way of comparing pizzas - 
ignore all the different toppings, this is the way to really test out the quality of the tomato sauce, cheese and of course the base itself. It was excellent and was the first pizza to be finished between us.

Hawaiian BBQ pizza
One of my favourite pizzas is BBQ chicken closely followed by Hawaiian, so I often make a half and half (which usually costs more), but in any case the BBQ chicken pizzas from the two other leading chains aren't quite what I want. One offers bacon, chicken and BBQ sauce - leaving me wishing for something with a bit of crunch like red onion. The other large chain has bacon, chicken, BBQ sauce, red onions, red peppers and green peppers - but I don't like green peppers so always pick them off. So when I saw that Papa John's did a Hawaiian BBQ pizza, with chicken, bacon, onion, pineapple and BBQ sauce - I was sold. It may sound like a slightly strange combination but it's amazing - friends who hadn't tried that pizza before and may have been a little dubious absolutely loved it. I think the combination of meats, the crunch from the onion and the sweetness of the pineapple is the perfect combination, and everything tastes better with BBQ sauce!

Garden Party pizza
We also had a vegetarian so ordered a Garden Party pizza- one of four vegetarian options, which had red onions, green peppers, cherry tomatoes, sweetcorn and mushrooms. I asked the vegetarian how she thought this compared to other pizzas and she said the vegetables were really fresh and crispy and gave the whole pizza a feeling of high quality. It's also worth mentioning that I ordered takeaway from Papa John's in Andover recently with a group of friends that included a vegan, and they were very happy to cater for her, making a pizza without any cheese and assuring us that their pizza bases were vegan (which I don't think is always the case with other companies).

garlic sticks
The only disappointment for me was the garlic bread but I appreciate this is very much a matter of personal taste. I love the garlic pizza bread offered by another chain - it's basically like a mini pizza with tomato and cheese but with garlic as well (I once had this and a side order instead of a pizza!). Papa John's is more the classical garlic bread which some people might prefer, in terms of flavour. It's served as 'sticks' - actually round but cut into fingers, which makes it really easy to share - and it comes with dips.

Speaking of dips, the pizzas each came with a free-of-charge dip which was good, but they were all garlic sauce -which was very buttery, more like a liquid garlic butter to me. I prefer the garlic and herb dip from Domino's I think - though Papa John's pizza base is so good, I will happily eat the crust without needing to dip it in anything!

The nice marketing people at Papa John's helped my big night in with a bottle of wine, a couple of DVDs and board games too, which was really kind of them. I'm really looking forward to watching the Chef DVD - we didn't get around to it on Saturday evening as we spent most of the time trying to puzzle out the Pointless board game based on the TV show of the same name! It's always hard the first time you play a new game and have to keep stopping to read the rules but we all had fun - the pizzas were definitely the highlight of the evening though!

Pointless board game

Thanks to Papa John's who supplied the food, drink, games and DVDs. All opinions are my own.

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