Italy is well known for its immaculate quality shoes and clothes, it’s the home of many renowned designer houses, wine and restaurants. We can’t all make it to Italy to enjoy these things, but i have discovered my own taste of top quality ‘Italy’ right here in the heart of Melbourne.
Gradi’s menu showcases the food of Naples and passionately maintains the focus on what has made the name Gradi famous – giving all diners the opportunity to experience the very best Italian ingredients and produce.
Johnny Di Francesco, owner of Melbourne’s renowned 400 Gradi, 400 Gradi Cicchetti, and 90 Secondi, has wooed Melbourne’s CBD with his latest offering, Gradi at Crown, bringing an authentic taste of Naples to the city.
Johnny said he felt very fortunate to be opening a second restaurant at Crown. “Having made pizza since I was 12, my passion for cooking has only intensified over time. I’m so blessed to be able to do what I love and I hope that joy infiltrates everything that I make.”
Fortunate Johnny may be, but believe me, when you have your chance to dine at Gradi, you will be the fortunate one.
When you walk into Gradi, the first thing you will notice is the size, it’s massive. The décor is second to none with its high-class Italian features, a Venetian style Cicchetti bar, bottles of wine in beautiful glass cabinets, a salumi counter where you can watch an abundance of perfectly cured meats get sliced, enormous wheels of cheese and a view out to Riverwalk.
When we visited Gradi we were expecting a quick lunch, and had appointments booked all afternoon. We didn’t have time to peruse the substantial menu so we left our dining experience in the hands of lovely manager, Emily, who asked a quick few questions as to our likes, dislikes and if we had any food intolerances. Off she went with a knowing smile, saying she would be back shortly with our first course.
Almost immediately, a small dish of olives was placed into the middle of our table and was quickly followed with some glasses of beautiful Italian red wine. My dining partner is not a fan of olives, but I am, so this suited me perfectly – nobody to share them with. Bonus! They were delicious. A few different varieties of olive, all beautifully coated in a mild oil so as to not lose, but accentuate, the flavour.
The restaurant wasn’t overly crowded, but had a good number of patrons. It was nice to sit back and relax after a hectic morning before the chaos that was our planned afternoon, and it was lovely to take in the ambience of this magnificent restaurant.
Cheese and cured meats were the next to be delivered to our table. They were served in a way I had not seen before. It was served on the obligatory rustic board, but the board was layered with paper. It was further layered with a thin wafer of Sardinian Carasau, which was the base for both the cheeses and meats.
Emily explained each cheese and meat, and recommended a wine that would complement this course. Naturally we took her advice, and she was right, her knowledge of matching wine with food was proving to be very accurate.
What can I say about the three cheeses and five cured meats served – delicious, fresh, beautifully presented and obviously top quality – not your regular supermarket stuff!
Again, my dining partner is not a massive fan of cheeses but still had his fair share of the goodies on both of these food boards – I, on the other hand, am a huge fan of this type of food and was quickly breaking off bits of the beautifully crisp Carasau, topping them with meat and cheese and devouring them.
From here on I was in a bit of a food coma. Red wine, magnificent food – it was time to put back my afternoon appointments – well, now I must ‘fess’ up – I didn’t just put them back, I cancelled! Oops – sorry to those of you who were affected, but make a trip to Gradi and you will understand completely.
With the food coma firmly in place in my head, I cannot remember the order, but a variety of food (and wine) arrived at our table.
Arancino (Arancini), which I have never been a huge fan of; rice in gooey white cheesiness that is rolled then breadcrumbed and fried has always left me feeling a bit squeamish. Gradi’s Arancino is a crumbed rice ball with pork sausage, mascarpone and parmesan cream – 100 per cent delicious and not like any Arancino I have eaten before, I am now a huge fan of this delicacy, but only the Gradi one.
Johnny’s famous 99 cheese pizza was also delivered to our table. It’s not always on the menu so we were very privileged to get to taste it. It has taken Johnny and his team a lot of experimentation but they have the recipe ‘bellisimo’.
I didn’t think it could be possible to have 99 different cheeses on a pizza, but they have done it. I won’t tell you how, but it holds everything from aged cheddar to double cream brie. It is rich, gooey and delicious.
We were also served Montanare Fritte – deep fried pizza dough. I knew it was coming, and I must admit, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. Pizza dough, fried? Hmmm, it didn’t sound like something I would (or could) eat. Think again!
The platter held three large (softball size) balls of deep fried pizza dough, each with a different but small amount of topping. They turned out to be pillows of light and fluffy deliciousness that were extremely addictive. What started out as my ‘not really me’ food has turned into my ‘must order’ on my next visit.
As the food coma had set in ages ago, the Montanare Fritte had pushed me to the level of ‘not one more morsel can pass these lips today’.
With a vast menu ranging from cheese and oysters to pasta, pizza, lamb and everything in between, Gradi offers a diffusion of authentic Italian gastronomic cuisine.
Everything served to us was presented beautifully, the produce used was top quality and the wait staff were extremely knowledgeable and friendly.
If you are lucky enough to have Emily look after you during your dining experience at Gradi, say hi from me. What a character! She is a bundle of fun and laughs, all the while keeping everything very professional, and her knowledge of the food and wine is unsurpassed.
And while you are sitting there devouring this divine cuisine, keep an eye out for ‘celebrities’. The world’s top tennis players have dined at Gradi, as have Formula 1 drivers, television personalities, politicians and recently, Mr Arnold Schwarzenegger. Word of Gradi has got out, and the crème de la crème of the sporting and entertainment worlds have heard about our very own touch of Italy in Melbourne.
Gradi is located on the Ground Floor of Crown Casino Riverwalk. Bookings can be made on (03) 9696 9888 and I sincerely hope I get invited back to dine on Johnny’s amazing cuisine – in particular the desserts which I didn’t get anywhere near to fitting in my overfull tummy.