Friday, 31 October 2014

Melbourne Series - Gradi at Crown - The Best Pizza in the World

It's been a pretty good year for me, both personally and professionally. Earlier in the year I was lucky enough to have travelled to Singapore to compete in the World Contact Centre Awards, where my business did very well.  More recently, I was able to represent this great state in National Awards for my business, where we also did pretty well....  So yeah, its been a good year.  Whenever I travel, I always make it my business to try to check out the local restaurant scene, which included some amazing restaurants in Singapore (see posts here).  One of my favourite places to travel to, especially for the food, is Melbourne, so I used my time recently to continue to check out some amazing restaurants.

My flight into Melbourne saw me arrive at the hotel right on lunch time, so it was only natural that I sought out decent spot to have a quick lunch.  I'd initially thought that the Nobu lunchtime special would be the way to go, but as I was walking through Crown, I'd recalled that a very special new restaurant had opened.  I couldn't remember the name, just that it was a pizza place and that it had only just opened.  It only took me a few seconds to 'Google' the parameters to come up with the name Gradi and as luck would have it, I was only a few meters away.

You might be wondering why I was so keen to check out a pizza place and why it might have left such an impression on me, and it's a good question.  Gradi is not just any old pizza restaurant, it's actually the new restaurant from Johnny Di Francesco 'VPN', who apart from his family hailing from home of pizza in Naples, is also the guy who took out the 2014 title for 'world's best' pizza.  In fact, Johnny is the first Australian ever trained in Naples to the 'Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana VPN' rules and he's the association's Australasian principal, travelling the region ensuring pizzerias are of the highest standard before officially inducting them into the Association.  Quite an honour.

I've been to Melbourne and Crown a heap over the years and I'm always amazed that the place keeps reinventing itself.  Gradi is the newest of the restaurants and it had only been open ten days on the day of my visit.  Entry to the restaurant was outside via Southbank and once I walked through the front door, I was delighted by how modern the dining room looked.  It was a far cry from your average pizza joint with red and white checked table cloth, with lots of polished marble and dark leather chairs, it was refined and very comfortable.

It was pretty quiet and I was offered my choice of seat by the immaculately presented wait staff, so I took a bench seat with a great view of the entire restaurant.  I was given a menu, but I didn't really need to look at it, I was only ever going to get the traditional margherita pizza, the pizza that put Johnny on the map.  Looking like a huge postcard from Naples on one side, there was a full Italian restaurant menu on the other, although the pizza offering took pride of place.  It wasn't long before my order was taken and I settled in to wait for my 'world's best' pizza.

Pizza doesn't take too long to prepare and cook and before I knew it, I had my waiter presenting my pizza on a huge white plate.  It certainly looked the goods, with the tri-colours of the Italian flag prominent.  The pizza base was a little thicker than I thought it would be and there was a little more crust too, which had me a little worried.  Any fears I had were dispelled immediately, the pizza crust was beautiful, sweeter than I expected but the slightly thicker base allowed for a deeper flavour.  The tomato sauce was incredible, also sweet, but in a contrasting way and I got a distinctive umami flavour on my palate that was almost addictive.  The creamy mozzarella on top was equally amazing and was in complete harmony with the base and sauce!  Probably my only thought on my particular pizza was that I'd have like the mozzarella more evenly distributed, but..... It was definitely worthy!

I could have finished there, sated and happy, but my waiter brought over the desserts menu to tempt me with a little more food.  I thought about resisting, but it was futile, I saw the tortino al cioccolato cuore bianco; dark chocolate pudding with a white chocolate heart and went for it.  It was essentially a little chocolate fondant, and as I'd hoped, when I cracked it open a molten lava of dark and white chocolate oozed out.  I'd suspected by it's beauty on the plate that it might be spectacular and it certainly was.  There was a little bowl of vanilla bean ice cream and I eagerly mixed the molten chocolate with the cold ice cream to get a blend of textures and temperatures that were amazing. There were little dollops of raspberry coulis that contributed a little bit of tartness and a little bit of balance.  Amazing!

I've had pizza in most of the traditional pizza spots around the world, including Italy and New York and the Gradi was definitely up there with the best.  When pizza achieves that level of greatness, there is not a lot between them, so I couldn't say if this was better or worse than Da Bufetta in Rome, or Il Piccolo Buffalo in New York.  World's Best Pizza, possibly.......  Amazing pizza worth shouting from the rooftops about, definitely!

I was a little disappointed that I didn't get over to the original Johnny Di Francesco pizza joint over at Brunswick, but I just didn't have time before getting off to my conference.  Would the original have been any better or different, I'm not sure and I may never find out, but it probably doesn't matter.

Gradi in Crown is much more than a corner store pizza joint, it's a refined restaurant that definitely holds its place amongst the assorted mix of international restaurants that call Crown home. While it's an amazing spot, that feels comfortable and looks the goods, it still retains the heart of Italy and will surely become one of the hot spots in the complex.

The pizza looked just about perfect - there was maybe a little too much crust for me
Even though there was a little bit of a singe on the crust, it was still delicious
I smashed the pizza and could have gone another!
Dessert was simply presented but looked beautiful and the mix of white and dark chocolate that oozed out was the goods!
The entrance to a very large restaurant
Dark wood tables and brown leather seats made for a comfortable and beautiful interior
The huge and well stoked bar
I splurged and went for a bottled water 

Gradi on Urbanspoon400 Gradi

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