On hearing that 400 Gradi’s Pizzaiolo Johnny Di Francesco had won the world’s best margherita pizza I had the sudden urge to visit Melbourne. In winning the award he was up against over 600 entrants from 35 countries at the world championships in Parma, Italy. I had to try this pizza. Food before transport is my usual philosophy when it comes to travel so my booking at 400 Gradi was confirmed before booking flights.
400 Gradi is located in East Brunswick on Melbourne’s famous Lygon Street. From the outside it looks similar to other nearby pizzerias. Well it did until recently. Why? Because post the award you’re likely to see a queue of customers, equally excited to try the world’s best pizza, outside. On the night of my visit the queue was being treated to complementary prosecco to distract them from the cold and rain.
400 Gradi isn’t a rustic Italian trattoria. You won’t find checked tablecloths or exposed brick. Nor will you see a map of Italy or Italian scenery decorating the walls. Instead it’s a modern celebration of Italian materials with dim low pendant lighting, marble walls decorated with gold calligraphy and charcoal polished flooring. The long bar is made from a slab of old red gum and, as I pulled up a bar stool, I was in awe of the jaw dropping pizza oven just a few metres away.
What a joy to sit at the bar with a prime view of Johnny and his team in action whipping up real Neapolitan style pizzas. 400 Gradi is more than a pizzeria – there’s a full Italian menu with everything from appetisers (‘assaggi’), to pasta to mains. It was tempting to start by nibbling on some arancini, calamari or bruschetta but on this occasion I decided to reserve every bit of space in my stomach for pizza. So, after ordering a bottle of Italian Sangiovese, we jumped straight to the pizzas.
The 400 Gradi touch
Johnny Di Francesco is the first Australian trained in Naples to the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN) rules. His family roots are in Naples and he started pizza making at only 12 years old. In just a few seconds, Johnny and his team turn a ball of dough into a pizza base, with little more than a few skilled spins. Toppings are added and then two pairs of hands briefly work the dough – to give it a quick and final stretch before it hits the oven. After a mere 60 to 90 seconds at 400 degrees (hence the name 400 Gradi) the pizza is ready. Watching them in action I wanted to try a slice of every pizza on the menu.
The pizzas are priced very reasonably (at $17.50 to $25) especially considering the quality of ingredients used. Narrowing down the tempting list of 12 pizzas wasn’t easy. Here’s what I tried. Firstly the Margherita was an obvious choice – given that it was the award winner.
How was it? Light and airy dough combined with a crispy crust and sweet San Marzano tomato sauce reminded me why simple is best when it comes to pizza. The mozzarella di bufala is air freighted from Caserta, in the Campania region of Italy and is generously applied as the hero topping. The pizza passed my husband’s best pizza test with flying colours – because he could pick up a slice and fold it in half with no spillage. The second pizza we tried was a white base pizza – a ‘pizza in bianco’ – the combination of goats cheese and mushrooms drew us to the Toscana.
I expected the goat’s cheese to have been cooked but it’s actually added before serving alongside the rocket. The verdict? It’s very good – almost as good as the margherita. But rather than elaborating more on the texture and taste here’s a quote that encapsulates just how good 400 Gradi’s pizzas are:
Apart from the actual pizza itself the other two highlights of my 400 Gradi experience were ducking behind the bar to say a brief hello to Johnny himself and also the pizza acrobatics. The acrobatics are performed across the floor by a couple of the 400 Gradi team, and let’s just say the crowd’s applause could probably be heard over the road. But if you’re keen to find out more about the show you’ll have to plan a visit……
More about the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN)
The strict standards of the AVPN require that:
- ’00’ flour is used for the dough,
- the dough is rested for 24-36 hours,
- San Marzano tomatoes are used to make hand blended tomato sauce, and
- the pizza oven is heated to 400 degrees.
Here’s a few other Australian pizzerias that meet these standards:
- Pizza Mario, Surry Hills, NSW
- Lucios Pizzeria, Darlinghurst, NSW
- Gigi Pizzeria, Newtown, NSW
- Etica Pizzeria, Adelaide, SA
- La Svolta, Hampton, VIC
- Scoozi, Ascot Vale, VIC
By Feast Wisely
- 99 Lygon Street, Brunswick East VIC 3055
- 03 9380 2320 (call to make a booking)
- Open daily from midday until 11pm
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