To get you in the mood for the ongoing voting in the Beijinger's 2014 Pizza Cup, which will be sliced down to the Final Eight tonight (vote here!), we sent our minions out to patrol the streets for pizza. Here's a selection of what they've found:

At Bang! Bang! Pizza, owner Robin Howlett has a few simple goals; show footie on the tube, stock the fridge with imported beer, and serve up tasty, crispy thin slices of ‘za. 

Howlett’s "no muss, no fuss" ethos is especially evident on those pies. His sports bar and restaurant (located in Shuangjing) has eleven pizza varieties, and most of them are standard fare – margarita, pepperoni, Hawaiian, veggie. He says the “Meat Lover’s” is the highest seller, but even its ingredients are not overly elaborate: beef, salami, ham, sausage, and chicken. And even though it’s the heartiest pizza on Bang! Bang!’s menu, its slender crunchy crust won’t leave customers feeling gluttonous or groggy after nibbling it down.

For Howlett, simplicity is an asset. “Some places have 150 dishes on the menu, but how fresh can they really all be?” he says, adding: "I want things to be as fresh as possible. So the more we focus in on certain options, the easier it is to control that.”

Hailing from Manchester, England, Howlett enrolled at the University of Leeds' Chinese language program, before coming to The Middle Kingdom to further his studies in 1988. After an extended stint in the corporate world, he became an entrepreneur in 2004 and opened Souk, one of Beijing’s first shisha lounges at the West Gate of Chaoyang park (in the vicinity of where Club Suzie Wong, Annie’s, and Alio Olio are located today). As he and his business partner’s visions for the venue began to differ, Howlett decided to move on. In 2010 he saw many middle class foreigners congregating in Shuangjing, and realized there might be a new business opportunity there.  

“I thought it would be a good place to start a pizza delivery service,” he says. “But that was before things started to develop so quickly here.”

Since then, he says competitors like Gung Ho! and Pizza Express have all but dominated the delivery market, and his expat clientele dwindled as China’s visa standards tightened and Shaunjing’s rental rates skyrocketed. 

Those seismic shifts prompted Howlett to switch up his business model, and focus on turning his Shuangjing location into a sit-down sports bar and restaurant (customers can still order deliveries, but only in the Shuangjing neighborhood). Now Howlett says much of his clientele is Chinese, mostly students and businesspeople who have lived overseas and appreciate a tasty slice of pizza, a bottle of imported beer, and a live game of football (Howlett purchased a satellite program that lets him show the entire season on the bar’s big screen projector). And while those customers enjoy Howlett's straightforward approach, they also appreciate some of the more unique dishes that have been popping up on his menu. Those special treats include clay pot meat and rice dishes, and a Beijing Duck pizza. 

“That one really surprises a lot of customers. They’ll ask ‘does it really taste like Peking duck?’” Howlett says of Bang! Bang!'s most creative pie, before adding: “And it actually does taste that way. Our chef, his name is Louis, he used to work at the Kunlun hotel. He uses real slices of roast duck, and the same sauce that Peking duck restaurants use, along with slices of spring onion. It kind of blows our Chinese customers away."

Bang! Bang! Pizza
Daily 5pm- 2am. Rm 103, Bldg 24, Hopson International Park, Shuanghuayuan Nanli Area 3 (west of Renaissance Hotel), Shuangjing, Chaoyang District (8776 4533)
朝阳区 双井双花园南里3区(北京富力万丽酒店)合生国际家园24号楼103单元

Photo: Kyle Mullin

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