Known as “Mr Pizza” at home, Melbourne-based Johnny Di Francesco (owner of award-winning 400 Gradi Group) was recently named the best in the world at 2014 World Pizza Championships in Napoli, and if you ever try his perfectly executed pizza, you'll know why. So where does the pizza master choose to dine out? Here are the top five Italian spots he swears by in Melbourne.
I love the atmosphere at Mozzarella Bar - they do a lot of things really well. The quick lunch special is a great option for me if I'm in the area and really want to eat but don't have a lot of time to stop. The gnocchi here is traditional and the perfect comfort food for me or I'll just indulge in the burrata. It's difficult to find a great burrata, but you're guaranteed that here.
103 Victoria St, Seddon 3011
Thirty Eight Chairs
I love the authenticity of Thirty Eight Chairs. The staff are mostly Italian and the excellent service just adds to the great food. Dinner here is a lively experience with a great atmosphere, but if I'm passing through during the day and can't stop, I'll grab a coffee and a jaffle toastie.
4a Bond Street, South Yarra 3141
Of course my first choice for pizza is at one of the Gradi Group restaurants, but if I do venture outside of my own venues then La Svolta is one of the places that I head to - and I always order the margherita, just to compare it to my own haha. I love that the team here is led by best friends, and that their recipes have been handed down from their grandparents. I think that level of love shows in the food.
450 Hampton St, Hampton 3188
LaManna Direct is technically a supermarket, but I spend so much time here - both eating and shopping - that I have to include it. La Manna Direct is my go-to for authentic Italian products, and I've lost days here. The cafe, although not traditionally Italian fare, has a fantastic breakfast and lunch offering and they do a mean piadina (traditional Italian flatbread) and the Molise with pork sausage, tuscan cabbage and mozzarella stops me in my tracks regularly.
10 English St, Essendon Fields 3041
The Demazzi menu here is influenced in part by the Italian heritage of the owners, so the menu is seasonal but they can be relied on for a focus on meat. The Chefs here know how to cook a steak, so it's where I head when I'm craving meat or a great burger! De Mazzi cook their meat on volcanic rock, so it's incredibly full of flavour plus it doesn't go cold if not eaten immediately, which can happen when a bunch of Italians get talking!
4/1142 Mount Alexander Road, Essendon 3040