• 400 Gradi (Brunswick)

On a quick day trip to Naples, from Rome, via Pompeii, my friends met me at the train station and eagerly took me through the 'nice parts of town'.  It had been a lovely afternoon.  There was only one problem. We’d run out of time for me to try the city’s all famous pizza margherita.

In a frenzy with their pride not allowing me to miss the prized cuisine, we ran to a take-away outlet by the tracks, only 10 minutes before I was due to depart.

Handing over a few coins, a large slice was presented from perhaps the dodgiest pizza server in the city – kind of like serving a tourist supermarket vanilla slice, when it’s country bakeries like Hyde’s in Benella that make them famous.

My friends watched expectantly.

“What do you think?” they asked with their eager faces awaiting praise.

“It’s good,” I conceded.

“Of course this is not the best place, but still you cannot leave Naples without trying real pizza.”

I later wondered if all pizza from Naples could classify as the best traditional, and often thought pizza here is better than that one rushed taste.  Fortunately, others have asked the same question.  The AVPN (Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana) is an organisation intent of preserving the standards and culture of this celebrated creation.

In this globalised world, there are nine restaurants in Australia that meet the strict guidelines and standards of creating real pizza according to the AVPN.  400 Gradi is one of them.

Arriving on a Thursday evening, the stylish U-shaped eating area was already abuzz with families, friends and couples.  We sat along the far wall, where we could peer into the kitchen and were just able to talk at normal levels amongst the chatter of other diners.

The menu is extensive.  There are several vegetarian options too.

To begin, I opted for the artichoke bruschetta (it was a choice between this and stuffed mushrooms).  The chewy bread had been char-grilled without full toasting and spread with artichoke puree, drizzled with oil and sprinkled with goats’ cheese.  Lemon dressed rocket garnished the top.

I tried the 2012 Fiano Sannio DOC from Terre di Briganti, Campania.  The helpful description predicted it to be delicate with tropical fruits, hazelnut and spice.  It held lemon on the nose with burnt honeycomb on the end whilst still being dry and citrus.  I could not detect hazelnut or oak.  With the bruschetta it adopted the flavour of a dry lime cordial.

My second glass was the 2011 Banks Road Chardonnay.  I should have tried this wine before, having visited the cellar door, and was pleasantly surprised.  Its aroma was strangely of off milk, but on the palate it held lovely oak and creaminess.  The aromas soon opened to compliment the taste.

There are vegetarian pastas on offer but I, of course, chose pizza.  400 Gradi’s pizza ortolana is made with san marzano tomatoes, fior di latte, roasted capsicum, zucchini and eggplant.  There is also the contadins (with potato and caramelised onions), the toscana (with mushrooms and goats’ cheese) and the margherita verace.

My pizza arrived more tempting than any other.  The base was chewy and flavoursome.  The veggies were well cooked.  The cheese was like that of a true Italian fresh food market.  Oregano brought further tastiness.  All I can say is, writing this now, is making me hungry and wanting more. Mmmmmm…

Had I not been embarrassed at being able to fit in dessert after such a large meal, I would have ordered the poached figs and mascarpone calzone…or maybe the pannacotta…or the chocolate fondue pudding.  As it was, I did not and decided I would have to return again soon to enjoy the sweeter course.

My friends from Naples would be horrified if I told them that pizza in little, far-away Melbourne is better than that in their home city.

“But Naples is the origin of pizza!” They would cry, and they would be right.  If only I had had more time in that quirky place to experience it properly.

One day I will meet them again, and we will eat the real pizza properly this time, from the best restaurant in the city.  In the meantime, I am quite contented to be transported to Naples through Lygon Street.

400 Gradi
99 Lygon Street
Brunswick 3055
03 9380 2320
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