Last year 400 Gradi’s “Margherita Verace” won “World’s Best Pizza”, testament to its simplicity and traditional preparation. I ventured there last week, hungry to try it!
Unlike Melbourne’s typical Italian eateries, 400 Gradi is region focussed, serving traditional Napoli cuisine. And they’re serious about making it well! Starters like bruschetta with artichoke paste and fried olives are available, along with some pastas and mains, but the star here is pizza. No chunky bases; pizzas are crafted the traditional Neapolitan way. Rarely found in Melbourne, they’re thin with minimal toppings, cooked in wood-fire ovens.
Inside the restaurant nuanced Italian homages abound, from mosaic tiles lining the bar to white brickwork spotted with red and green. It’s reflective of Italy, albeit in a subtle, unclichéd manner. This elicits a modern feel, accessible both to casual families and finer dining clientele. Young (and very good looking!) Italian wait-staff and soft jazz amplify the modern ambiance. Although serving sizes are small and prices are above average, food is tasty and cooked with love.
Arriving at the table, my pizza’s puffy crust had me smiling in anticipation as the scent of baked dough drifted about. I savoured the delicate flavours of San-Marzano tomato, basil and buffalo mozzarella. They carried me to Venice, recollecting the heavenly pizza I enjoyed when first meeting my Italian relatives. Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson writes in ‘Accounting for Taste’, that we “use…taste to reconnect with the past”. This was poignantly exemplified for me as I enjoyed every mouthful.
I also ordered “Polpette alla Napoletana” (meatballs), served in an old clay pot. It seemed decades old; I envisaged a Nonna preparing meatballs as she had done for years. It’s truly the power of lovingly cooked food that feeds the imagination and the soul.
Eating these dishes, I felt proud of my Italian heritage. I‘m so pleased that this traditional food, part of my culture and identity, is accessible in Melbourne for all.