Bear Experience: Catch-up with the crew at Papa J’s

I’m lucky enough to be one of those people that have groups of friends that if you don’t see each other or keep in contact for a while – when you do eventually meet up, the time spent apart is irrelevant. I think that’s an amazing quality in friendship if you are able to do that.

This group is exactly that, we hadn’t seen each other since March but we were making jokes and laughing before we knew it. The venue we chose to meet up was at Papa J’s – one of Luton’s finer Indian dining establishments (ooh that sounded posh).

We were all starving and decided to order all the food as soon as we could and asked them if we could have it out at 9:25 as two of us were fasting. I think like most people, we went a bit overboard (might have been my fault). Bearing in mind that there were four of us, below is a list of items we ordered:

Starters:

  • Atomic Wings
  • Paneer Tikka (V)
  • Vegetable Manchurian Dry (V)
  • Chilli Paneer (V)
  • Potato 65 (V)
  • Spicy Potato Bhajias (V)

Drinks:

  • PJ Sunrise
  • Mango Lassi

Sides:

  • Cheese Naan
  • Chilli and Garlic Naan

Atomic Wings

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Mighty hot with mind blowing chilli heat

Okay so this thing is HOT!!!! It’s definitely named appropriately. One of my friends loves hot food, it’s extremely rare for him to say, “this is hot” when eating a dish. He said it for the second time after he had tears rolling down his cheeks. Like a fool he rubbed his eye with his “fire-sauce” covered finger. My other friend had tears coming down her eyes when she tried it, and when I tried it, my head started to get hot. To be honest, there isn’t much taste to these wings, it’s just crunchy, fried heat. If you have someone who thinks they can take heat…..show them these wings and lets see how they do.

Score: 3/5 (It’s fun, but nothing “wow” in terms of taste)

Paneer Tikka

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Cubes of paneer, marinated in a tangy sauce, skewered with green pepper, tomato and onion and finished in Tandoor

Paneer – one of my favourite Indian dishes. There’s so many ways of making it; tandoor, fried, baked or grilled and I’m sure there’s more. What I love about this dish is the amount of flavour you get in each bite. Some paneer when its made can be cut too thick, but this one is cut to the right thickness and full of flavour. This is a dish you would want to eat quick though, as paneer can get a bit tough and “rubbery” if cooled. It’s one of those dishes you will want again and again.

Score: 3.8/5

Vegetable Manchurian Dry (V)

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Assorted minced vegetable dumplings tossed in a soya based sauce.

So I first had this dish by total accident. I once came to the restaurant with my family and we had ordered chilli garlic mogo, but received this instead. Owning up to their mistake, they allowed us to keep both dishes. We were all pleasantly surprised as it wasn’t as “dry” as the name suggests and packed quite a lot of flavour. It is essentially a mash up of different vegetables into a dumpling, tossed in a “chilli paneer style” sauce. It’s soft to the bite and oozes with flavour once you pierce the exterior. It’s definitely a must for any vegetarian.

Score: 3.9/5

Chilli Paneer (V)

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Cubes of paneer cheese tossed in a special tangy spicy sauce. A must for all paneer lovers

This is one of those dishes that you will find in almost any Indian restaurant. Not only will it taste different but most probably be spelt different too (i.e. panir and ponir). It always gives me the giggles. Papa J’s version is one of the better ones that I’ve tasted. As its heavily based on the sweet/sour balance, there can be times where restaurants tip it more towards one side whereas Papa J’s manages to keep a balanced flavour, where the sweet and sour work well together. What I like in particular about Papa J’s version, is the crisp edges, I love the fact it has a bit of a bite to it.

Score: 4/5

Potato 65 (V)

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Spicy pan-fried Potato tempered with chilli & curry leaves with a yoghurt based sauce

This is one of my favourite starters at Papa J’s, I don’t actually think I’ve ever been there without ordering this. The one annoying thing though, is that it is not a consistent dish. What I mean by that is, one time it might be perfect, and then another it might cooked slightly differently and is softer or it isn’t spicy enough. Luckily this time, it was made well and I was going back for more and more. It wasn’t too spicy but had enough of a kick to make me aware it was there.

Score: 4/5

Spicy Potato Bhajias (V)

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Slices of potato coated in Indian spices and green chilli, then golden fried

Essentially these are lightly spiced sliced Indian chips. My mum makes these kind of bhajiyas at home, but they are larger and thinner (known as “Maru Bhajiya”). The portion size is enough for sharing, but it has decreased over time. A few years back it you’d get a mountain of them, but this was before they became popular as a restaurant in Luton. There isn’t anything special about these bhajiyas in particular, they have a good flavour, slight bite and are seasoned well. I would say this is a safe option for a starter.

Score: 3/5

PJ Sunrise

I can’t even remember what was in this, but it was a concoction of quite a few things. Nevertheless it was a sweet, refreshing drink that was welcomed after I foolishly tried an atomic wing.

Score: 3.5/5

Mango Lassi

Nothing beats a nice thick mango lassi. I’ll admit the main reason I had this was to help cool my insides from the hellish burn of the atomic wings. It was very similar to the mango pulp my mother makes at home, although the mango flavour was more subtle in this lassi.

Score: 3/5

Naans

Even though I didn’t actually order any naans, I did steal a piece off one of my friends. It was a bit colder and tougher but generally when fresh, the naans are quite good. In comparison to some other Indian restaurants I’ve been to, these were on the smaller side.

Score: 3/5

All in all it was a half-decent dining experience, although it did take around 5-10 minutes to actually seat us (we had a reservation). The company, atmosphere and service was great.

Bear Experience Score: 3.75/5

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