The pizza that won best in the world lands in regional Victoria

It’s been a busy decade for 400 Gradi owner and chef Johnny Di Francesco. Since opening his first pizza restaurant on Melbourne’s Lygon Street in 2008, the restaurant has expanded to three other locations in Melbourne, as well as one in Adelaide, one in Bahrain, one in New Zealand, and one on P&O’s Pacific Explorer cruise ship.

In 2014, Di Francesco’s margherita pizza, which he makes the way the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana dictates a true margherita must be made, wone the best in the world at the Campionato Mondiale Della Pizza in Italy. Competing against 600 pizza makers from 35 countries, he was the first Australian to have ever won.

Now he’s opened his next venue in the Yarra Valley, at Rochford Wines vineyard and cellar door, about an hour out of Melbourne. All the 400 Gradi venues are big, but this is a new level - literally. The huge new warehouse-space is flooded with natural light over two floors, on the edge of the estate’s dam.

What makes his pizza the best? Dough fermented for two days, topped with San Marzano tomatoes, fior di latte and basil, and cooked in a 400 degree (gradi) wood-fired oven for no more than 90 seconds.

Although Rochford Wines executive chef Raki Andriana runs the kitchen, the menu here is similar to Di Francesco’s other venues. Pizza takes the spotlight, while pastas, mains and sides complement. The wines, unsurprisingly, are mostly Rochford drops.

See the recipe for his award-winning margherita here.

Photography: 400 Gradi.