400 Gradi

October 22, 2014

99 Lygon Street, Brunswick East

After an impromptu date at 400 Gradi last night with Mr N, I was inspired to write up my visit to 400 Gradi from a little while ago. That’s just the effect of pizza has on me! In fact, Mr N and I only went to 400 Gradi for dinner because a day earlier I’d emailed a friend who’s overseas, to let him know that they’ve just opened a new restaurant, Gradi, at Crown. Now, I may be skeptical of Crown, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with pizza! So, off to the original we went!
The first time I ate at 400 Gradi was as part of a large group when we were on our way to a university function. E, who it seems is a bit of a regular at 400 Gradi (‘ripping place, absolutely ripping’), thought ahead and booked us a table so we could eat something delicious beforehand.

400 Gradi has a very different feel to other good pizza places like DOC or Ladro. It’s much bigger, darker, fancier, more of a modern restaurant, with less of a vibe of a neighbourhood favourite where locals just walk in off the street, even though I’m sure that most of the diners come here for pizza on a regular basis. I’m just saying that the vibe of the place is different.

Having said that, it’s still got that quintessential Italian feel. It has a warmth to it that is undeniable as soon as you walk in the door. It’s a nice place to come for dinner, sophisticated yet relaxed and inviting. The servers are all young, friendly and just slightly flirty, and sometimes on busy nights the pizza chefs come out of the kitchen to do a great little routine where they twirl and flip dough up in the air while on each other’s shoulders.

Since we had quite a large group and people were arriving separately, we ordered a few starters to nibble on while we waited for everyone. As soon as this focaccia was put down on the table about three people lunged for it, and it was all I could do to snap this photo quickly before half of it disappeared!
Also fantastic were a plate of stuffed and fried zucchini flowers (a personal favourite), with a lemony salad on the side.

But now, to the main event! As far as restaurateur Johnny Di Francesco is concerned, pizza isn’t just a food, it’s an art form. As the first Australian to be trained in Naples by the scary-sounding Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, he knows more than a little about their very strict rules. Unsurprisingly, quality and integrity are two characteristics that are never compromised in the 400 Gradi kitchen.

For example, the oven must be kept at 400 degrees (thus the name of the restaurant), and pizzas can spend a maximum of 90 seconds in there. The pizza dough must sport a border around the outside, no more than 2cm high, and the dough when cooked must be soft and pliable. Johnny’s pizza, made in the traditional Naples style, even won him the World Pizza Championship, decided in Italy earlier this year!


With such high accolades, suffice to say that my expectations were high! Satisfyingly, they were well and truly met by the pizzas we had that night. Take the Toscana, above, a pizza in bianco with fior di latte, mushrooms, goats cheese and rocket. If I were a vegetarian, I’d be eating this baby once a week! The earthy mushrooms and the tangy goats cheese were just phenomenal, and I loved spreading the melty cheese over the crusts of the pizza.

Below is the Guancia, with san marzano tomato, fior di latte, pancetta, mushrooms and olives. Very similar to the well-know capricciosa, but far better than you’d get anywhere else.

My favourite from the evening was one of the simplest of the bunch: the Napoletana with san marzano tomato, fior di latte, anchovies, olives and oregano. Putting the toppings to one side, the dough itself was absolutely delicious! Just look at that bubbling, charred beauty. I love the slight misshapen circle, the uneven bubbling of the crust, and the abstract sprinkling of ingredients. It hardly gets any more authentic than this.
Sinfully good was the Quattro Formaggi. I don’t need to speak Italian to tell you that those two words mean cheese, and a lot of it. Fior di latte, grana padano, gorgonzola and emmental together make a heavenly, umami-rich combination. My one constructive comment about 400 Gradi is that there should be more bianco pizzas on the menu! I think they’re a wonderful alternative to tomato based pizza, so it would be good to see a few more interesting combinations. In this respect, I think the menus at DOC and Ladro are better.
The fiery Zingara was a huge hit with the table, with san marzano tomato, fior di latte, hot salami and rocket. The photo is a bit blurry, but there was nothing out of focus about that happy marriage of bread, cheese and pork.
Finally, the only pizza I didn’t try was the Ortolana with san marzano tomato, fior di latte, and roasted peppers, zucchini and eggplant. However J, who was a late arrival, inhaled about two thirds of it as soon as he sat down, so I’m prepared to say it was also delicious.

Here are the pizzas Mr N and I shared while out to dinner last night. In the foreground you’ll recognise the Toscana, and in the background is the Caserta, with san marzano, mozzarella di buffalo, Levoni prosciutto di parma and rocket. Though we’d agreed to share them, once the Caserta was placed in front of Mr N I could tell he was looking for a way to eat most of it himself! I can hardly blame him – both were delicious but there’s just something about the sweet tomato, salty prosciutto and chewy dough that can’t be beaten. This was as close to perfect as I think pizza can ever be.



400 Gradi. It’s the perfect place for pizza with family, friends, or lovers. Nothing like picking up food with your hands and breathing in that deeply warming scent of bread, tomato and cheese. A warning though – once you’ve eaten here, it’s hard not to come back!


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Filed under: Brunswick East, Italian, Pizza