by James Ridenour
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400 Gradi Pizza

400 Gradi has the best pizza in Melbourne.

Ok, so you would like a little more background on my claim?   A great Italian foodie friend of mine told me about 400 Gradi and so I had to give it a try.  The pizza quality all comes down to the passion and dedication of one man, Johnny Di Francesco.  Johnny has been in the pizza business for most of his adult life and has owned a number of pizza business.  He explained that with most pizza businesses it’s a numbers game based on volume.  He has always dreamed of opening up a quality pizza restaurant which focuses on the traditional principles of pizza making from the birthplace of pizza, Naples.

A few years ago Johnny set out on his quest and travelled to Naples to learn the techniques of making the finest pizza with the “Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana VPN“.  He was the first Australian to ever be accredited by the association and returned to Melbourne to share his passion.   400 Gradi which translates to 400 degrees was born and Melbourne has enjoyed the finest quality traditional Neapolitan pizza ever since.

To further his quest of making the best pizza possible, Johnny recently flew to Las Vegas to take part in the Pizza Olympics.  He worked with some of the world’s best pizza makers and has put Australia on the world stage for pizza.  It was an absolute delight to see his eyes light up and his ear to ear grin as he talked about working alongside some of the worlds greatest and most famous pizza makers.  Johnny’s energy and passion for pizza is truly infectious.

So what about the pizza.  Let’s start with the Margherita Originale, the classic pizza of all time.  It is often hardest to do the simple things well and let’s face it if you can’t get the basics right what chance do you have with the rest?  The Margherita is simply marzano cheese, tomato, galic and oregano.  I have never had a better pizza anywhere.  Let it be said that I still have Italy on my bucket list but I bet Johnny’s pizza would stack up very well to those in Naples.  Johnny’s pizzas are made using the traditional method of flash cooking in a 400 degree  oven for only 90 seconds.  The crust is thin, light and not too crispy so that you can fold the pizza and eat it sort of like you would a pita roll.  The tomato sauce was incredibly sweet, aromatic and so rich with flavour it was jaw dropping.  The cheese was delicate and with just the right constancy and the garlic and oregano were the perfect accompaniments, they add to the flavour without masking the tomato sauce.  In fact the sauce was so incredibly sweet and rich that I had to ask where Johnny got the tomatoes for the sauce.  They are of course from San Marzano, Italy!   If you have ever spoken to someone who has been to Italy they all rave about the food and how the flavours are just so much more intense than anything they have experienced elsewhere in the world.  Climate, soil and tradition all play a part in producing some of the best food in the world.  Here is your chance to experience this right here in Melbourne!

We also tried the Napoletana pizza with San Marzano tomato, fior di latte, anchovies and olives as well as the Zingara with San Marzano tomato, fior di latte, hot salami and rocket.  Both were excellent and full of flavour.  I especially loved the Zingara as the hot salami was spicy, rich and perfectly cured.  I can’t wait to go back and try the other pizzas on the menu but I will always start with the Margherita as it was perfection.

Johnny now offers pizza making classes at his restaurant on the third Saturday of the month where you have the opportunity to interact with him and learn his pizza secrets.  Spaces in each class are limited and they are wildly popular so book well in advance.  Johnny also participates in the Queen Victoria Market’s cooking classes but my tip would be to book at the restaurant where you will get the class on Johnny’s home turf.

I had a wonderful evening and enjoyed meeting Johnny and learning about his passion for pizza.  400 Gradi also offers great wine, service and a full Italian menu for those who want something other than pizza.  How anyone could pass on the best pizza in Melbourne would be beyond me though.

400 Gradi is located at 99 Lygon Street, Brunswick East and can be contacted at Tel: 03 9380 2320.  Johnny is on Twitter @400Gradi

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