Walking into 400 Gradi feels a bit like entering any pizza restaurant down the “other” end of Lygon Street. Lots of wooden tables, soft lighting and groups of loud people drinking vino and sharing dinner plate sized pizza. It’s only when you see the chefs at the antique salume machine slicing pink prosciutto straight onto the pizza base as it comes out of the oven, or hear ‘buon appetito’ in a perfect Italian accent as the food is set down on the table, that you know you have entered somewhere a bit different and really special.
They take their pizza seriously at 400 Gradi. It is one of only three Melbourne pizzerias to be a member of the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association (the VPNA). The VPNA is an Italian association dedicated to protecting the authentic Neapolitan pizza style. They impose strict guidelines on the ingredients that can be used by VPNA member restaurants and where those ingredients can be sourced from (click here for more information). It’s no wonder that 400 Gradi has generated such a buzz amongst serious pizza lovers . It’s a little taste of genuine Italian pizza heaven right here in Melbourne.
The long list of starters on the menu sound truly heavenly. Think much loved Italian dishes like Sicilian arancini served in an angry arrabiata sauce, antipasto plates of cured meats with Italian cheeses, and slow cooked polpette (meatballs) served in a tomato sauce with crusty bread. If my body had an infinite capacity to digest, and there was no chance of rolls forming around my waist and spilling out over my skinny jeans, I would have devoured them all. Instead we opted to skip the starters and get straight down to what we were here for, the woodfire pizza. I was planning to enjoy a full cheesy, doughy delight all to myself. I needed to save some stomach room.
There are 12 wood fire pizzas on offer at 400 Gradi. The classic margarita and its many variations like the “guancia” with pancetta, mushrooms and olives are sure to keep the traditionalists happy. They also have a selection of pizzas ‘ in bianco’ meaning ‘white pizza’. These are pizzas without the tomato base. Like the ‘contadina’, which is topped with fior di latte cheese, potato and rosemary.
For me, I just couldn’t go past the Caserta. A thin based wood fire pizza topped with san marzano tomato, buffalo mozzarella (air freighted fresh from Caserta, Italy), prosciutto di parma and rocket.
The pizza is just to die for. The base is soft like freshly baked bread without being too crunchy or chewy. It has a delicious wood fired flavour and stands up to the tomato and cheese topping without getting soggy. The fresh San Marzano tomatoes remind me of the passata we make every March in my grandmother’s garage. Just glorious. But if there was something on the plate worth heralding to the Gods about it was the prosciutto. Fresh, soft and delicious it gave a fantastic lift to this classic pizza dish. A mouthful of the salty pork with the peppery bite of the rocket and subtle mozzarella was divine. I really am salivating while writing about it. I practically inhaled every bite.
I stopped my prosciutto pizza gorging long enough to try my mum’s choice, the “paesana”. It was covered with San marzano tomato, fior di latte, sausage, broccolini and fresh cherry tomatoes. The pizza tasted like the steamed vegetable dishes prepared by my Sicilian grandmother every Wednesday night in Coburg. Not once has she made a plate of green beans or broccoli without mixing in a dash of tomato sauce and fat juicy chunks of homemade sausage. The salt and fat of the sausage coats the vegetables and really dials up the flavour. The same thing happened on this pizza. I know this next shot is a little close up. Please try not drool all over your keyboard!
400 Gradi has a lovely varied dessert menu that is again made up of traditional Italian dishes. I would have loved to try their tiramisu but all that coffee would have had me buzzing in bed all night. Instead we chose the “crepes alla nutella”. The crepes were soft and filled with smooth nutella and bits of pistachio for crunch. The pistachio was not needed, the dish was simple and sinfully delicious.
It is so refreshing to find a wood fire pizza place that doesn’t blacken the bases or over cook the crust to a brittle crisp. A restaurant that isn’t afraid to load up on the buffalo mozzarella, and understands that peas are for pasties and putting in arancini, not for scattering on top of pizza. 400 Gradi keeps it simple and uses good, fresh produce to create authentic wholesome Italian flavours. A real gem that even my fussy Sicilian father adores. Bellissimo!
400 Gradi – 99 Lygon Street Brunswick East, Victoria