TRIED & TESTED; DOUGH TO DOOR

Pizzas are a favourite take-away nationwide. How do home ordering services shape up? Our panel finds out
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The Independent Culture
ORIGINALLY a peasant food from southern Italy made with left-over dough flavoured with garlic and tomato sauce, pizza crossed the Atlantic with Italian emigrants to the US and has returned to Europe a fatter, more complex meal. Purists may disapprove, but the modern pizza can be eaten on the hoof, is popular with children and is often thought value for money. According to the market researchers Mintel, it is the third most popular warm take-away (after fish and chips and hamburgers).

THE TEST

We set out to test the home-delivery service of pizzas around the country, but found huge regional differences. So we applied a spot-check approach to four national chains: Pizza Hut, Domino's, Pizzaland and Perfect Pizza. We would have included Pizza Express, which is popular with the panellists, but its geographical coverage is limited and there are no outlets in Sheffield. In view of the panel's verdicts on the chains, we also asked each group to nominate their favourite local pizza take-away in London, Sheffield and Bristol.

THE PANEL

Maddalena Bonino, head chef at Bertorelli's in Charlotte Street, London, and her two sous-chefs; Eva and Stephen Spooner, doctors of hygiene and medicine respectively, and their daughters Joanna, 9, and Katie, 7, who live in Sheffield; young single friends in the Bristol area - university student Michelle Ashford and journalists Dave Higgitt and Simon Whitehouse.

**PIZZA HUT

Free delivery within a specified area from selected outlets only. Telephone orders ready for collection within 20 minutes. Deep-pan and thin-crust; 24 varieties, plus create-your-own. Regular cheese and tomato: pounds 5.99

This was the winner of the national chains in a mediocre field. Pizza Hut pizzas were generally judged bland and greasy, but they appealed to the children and students in our panel.

In London, our double-decker, double cheese pepperoni feast (pounds 8.99) was so deep you could have drowned in it. Its taste was described unequivocally as "salty and greasy" by the chefs. "The amount of cheese just compensates for the length of time needed to cook so much dough," Maddalena said, and the amount of grease on the box exceeded all the other pizzas.

Family-oriented marketing clearly works, as the brand proved the overall winner with the Spooner children in Sheffield, who agreed with their parents that Pizza Hut's margherita with pepperoni (pounds 5.75) was "salty and greasy", but insisted, with typical childish logic, that they liked Pizza Hut best, "because they give you toothpaste and shower gel and they let you eat as much ice-cream as you like" - even though the gifts and gimmicks aren't available with take-aways. The Sheffield Pizza Hut closest to the Spooners did offer home delivery; it took 27 minutes, but the pizza arrived hot, and the Spooners found the telephone reception "friendly and helpful".

In Bristol, Michelle judged her choice of Pizza Hut's deep-pan Hawaiian (pounds 5.99) - pineapple and ham topping - the best value and flavour of all. It was, she said "filling and tasty, with just the right proportion of topping to base".

*DOMINO'S

Free delivery from all outlets in specified area. Telephone orders ready in 10 minutes. Deep-pan, regular and extra-thin; 16 varieties, plus create- your-own. Reg-ular cheese and tomato: pounds 4.95

In London a "Mega Week" promotion at Domino's outlets meant we were able to buy a dustbin lid-sized pizza (extra large) with our own choice of pineapple, tuna and olives topping for pounds 6.95. We fetched it ourselves as we were outside the specified delivery area. Maddalena judged it "utterly bland; the only distinguishable flavour is that of the strongest ingredient - in this case, pineapple".

The Spooners had their cheese, tomato and bacon pizza (pounds 6.75) rushed round in 17 minutes by "a very cute delivery boy". They found it "slightly tasteless, but very fresh", and though the base was tough, at least it wasn't greasy. The children thought it was better than most because it had "more topping".

In Bath, Simon complained that his mixed grill pizza (pounds 6.49) was delivered lukewarm after 40 minutes because they had taken down his address wrongly and that "it wasn't as breakfasty as I had imagined". It should have had bacon, mushrooms, sausage and sliced tomatoes on it, but the tomatoes were "mostly skin", he couldn't spot any mushrooms and the sausages were oddly spicy.

PIZZALAND

No deliveries. Telephone orders ready within 20 minutes. Deep-pan and thin-crust; 27 varieties, plus create-your-own. Regular cheese and tomato: pounds 4.39

The chefs thought the coloured peppers on their small, mixed pizza (pounds 2.85) made it look, "quite jolly". The dough was fine in texture, but its taste was bland, and one sous-chef pointed out that the meat looked unappetising - "a little too close to dog food" - although it tasted fine.

The Spooners thought their cheese, tomato and mushroom pizza (pounds 7.29) had a good base, "which was just as well as there wasn't much else to it. The topping was tasteless and we had no inclination to finish it."

Michelle stuck doggedly to her pineapple-and-ham theme by ordering the tropicale (pounds 4.03), but it didn't have much flavour. "It wasn't greasy, but the pineapple tasted of glue."

PERFECT PIZZA

Free delivery from all outlets within a specified area. Phone orders ready in 20 minutes. Thin-crust and deep-pan; 12 varieties, plus create- your-own. Regular cheese and tomato: pounds 4.75

In London, some Perfect Pizza outlets subscribe to a central ordering service, the Perfect Pizza Hotline. This seemed like a good idea until we discovered that we were outside the delivery area. When we got our tandoori chicken pizza (pounds 6.75) home, Maddalena pronounced the "orange, carroty lumps" (ie, tandoori chicken) and soggy sweetcorn "most unattractive" and diagnosed the shiny brown crust as the result of "lots of cheap oil or margarine in the dough". By this time she was feeling a bit depressed. "It makes me angry to see the way a dish can be taken out of another culture and allowed to deteriorate to this extent."

The Spooners paid pounds 6.80 for their cheese, tomato and bacon pizza, which had "loads of cheese and not much tomato sauce. The base was slightly tough and greasy, but not as bad as Pizza Hut."

Michelle thought her Hawaiian (pounds 5.75) "really disgusting. It looked as if it had been thrown together in 30 seconds, the sauce was watery and I've never seen so much pineapple."

THE PANEL'S OWN NOMINATIONS

ECO Clapham High Street, London SW4 (0171-978 1108). No delivery service. Telephone orders ready within 10-30 minutes. Thin-crust only; 17 varieties, plus pizza of the day. Regular cheese and tomato: pounds 3.90

Nominated by Maddalena Bonino as the purveyors of the best take-away pizzas in London. We tried the pizza of the day (pounds 5.90) - a neat, delicious- smelling ("they rub the crust with garlic oil") and tasty assembly of asparagus, artichoke, aubergines, roasted peppers, mozzarella and sun- dried tomatoes on a thin, crispy base with fresh herbs. "It's so pretty, it looks like a garden," said the sous-chef. "It's an English obsession to want food to be piping hot," commented Maddalena, "when you should really let this cool a little so flavours can set. Even cold, it's still very edible."

NIBBLES

Glossop Road, Broomhill, Sheffield (0114 2665511/ 2682529). Free delivery within specified area. Telephone orders ready within 15 minutes. Deep- pan and thin-crust; 14 varieties, plus create-your-own. Regular cheese and tomato: pounds 2.40

The Spooners' all-time favourite. "It's excellent value and there's never any left. It's always ready in 15 minutes. It has an excellent crust, even though it's a little thicker than real Italian pizzas, and you can taste all the separate components, especially the fresh tomato sauce and herbs."

PIZZA BELLA

West Street, Bedminster, Bristol (0117 9633882). Free delivery within specified area. Telephone orders ready within 20 minutes. Deep-pan and thin-crust; 10 varieties, plus create-your-own. Regu-lar cheese and tomato: pounds 3.25

Dave Higgitt belongs to the membership scheme run by this enterprising Italian pizzeria. They deliver ("all sorts of things, if you ask") always within 20 minutes, "even on a Friday night", and the pizzas have "a lovely flavour", with thin, crispy bases. "They're greasy, though. They taste great - so unhealthy. If you're drunk and hungry, you can't beat them."

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