I’ve spent so much time in Italy over the past decade, that when I’m in Melbourne friends and family often ask where I go to experience a little of la dolce vita.
And being home for the summer there’s no need to miss out on some authentic Italian experiences.
So, I’ve put together some of my picks for pizza – the most recognised Italian dish in the world.
You have surely been living under a rock in Melbourne if you haven’t noticed the wave of real Italian style wood fire pizzerias that have inundated the city and inner suburbs over the past 10-15 years. While people in Melbourne have been exposed to pizza since Australia’s first pizzeria Little Italy opened in 1966 on Lygon Street, Carlton, the more Italian, wood fire, thin base and topped by no more than 2-3 ingredients-type pizza is a recent phenomena here.
And of course, many Melbourne pizzerias will claim Italian authenticity but with a sampling of more than just a few over the years, I think I’ve been able to weed out some of the less than great to give you my 5 faves.
Now for someone who lives in Rome (granted not Naples, but Roman pizza still packs a punch!) I’ll admit, that even the pizzas I recommend below – despite in most cases being made by Italian born pizza makers pizzaoili and with imported Italian produce, don’t compare to the real deal. And since this style of pizza in Melbourne is regarded as gourmet and almost part of a designer pizza craze, you generally pay top dollar for it. In fact, anywhere from AUD$20-32 for a plate sized pizza – double what you pay for a like – no, better – product in Italy. But for when I can’t be in Italy and still want a great pizza, you’ll find me at one of these locali. In essence, my friends and fellow Italophiles, this is how I Rome in Melbourne!
295 Drummond Street
DOC Pizza and Mozzarella Bar has slowly built a reputation as one of the most authentic Italian pizzerias since it opened in 2007.
Located in Carlton – Melbourne’s Little Italy district – you’d think they’d have much to compete with, but any bonafide foodie or anyone who has eaten even just a meal in Italy would agree that Carlton and the famed Lygon Street doesn’t boast Melbourne’s best Italian food. And in my opinion, except for a few select venues, far from it actually.
Hence the reason for DOC’s huge success in this area.
Here you’ll find fresh bufala mozzarella, fior di latte and prosciutto San Daniele. But what you go to DOC for is pizza. Beautiful thin crust and thin base pizza. With a variety of fresh and amazing toppings like pachino tomatoes, figs, porchetta, tallegio, mozzarella, Italian sausage, prosciutto and roasted vegetables.
My favorite is a white pizza with black truffle and porcini mushrooms. And for dessert I’m a sucker for the goats cheese tiramisu – yes I know goats cheese in tiramisu sounds strange, but trust me, it’s divine! Oh and the white chocolate and strawberry pizza goes down a treat too!
You’ll also enjoy taking a culinary tour through Italy with their DOC marked regional map as a menu too. (If you didn’t know, DOC stands for denominazione di orgine controllata which translates to ‘controlled destination of origin’ basically meaning it’s typical to the region and has a quality assurance label. For example chianti wine is DOC to the chianti region in Italy and the label protects the integrity of the product.)
And did I mention the staff? All Italian bred and trained (they are indeed truly Italian DOC!) and their Italian but also beautiful broken English mesmerises you from the minute you walk in.
It’s hands down my favorite place for pizza in Melbourne town! DOC now have an outpost in Mornington (on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula) and own another of my favourite places for a piadina or a pasta, Carlton Espresso Bar on Lygon Street, Carlton.
(2) 400 gradi
99 Lygon Street
I have friends who maintain 400 Gradi is even better than DOC. Well I have a soft spot for DOC and refuse to back down on it being the best. But I will say that this place, for me, is almost as good. Oh and for trivia, 400 gradi (degrees) is the recommended cooking temperature for an Italian pizza.
An added advantage at 400 Gradi is that they offer a full menu aside from their fantastic pizzas. I recommend you try their assaggi (little tastes, imagine Italian tapas!) like herb stuffed mushrooms and arancini fritti (mini fried rice balls) and pasta, risotto and steaks.
Johnny Di Francesco is the chef and owner here and claims to be the first Australian to be Naples trained and inducted into the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association. And on tasting his pizza, who am I to doubt this prestigious accolade!
My pick here is the Suprema which is a white base with fior di latte cheese, roasted pumpkin, pinenuts, goats cheese & rocket.
(3) I carusi
46A Holmes Street
Brunswick East (http://icarusiii.com.au/)
For me, I Carusi gave me my very first real Italian pizza (outside of Italy!) in Melbourne. It has developed a bit of a cult following since it opened in 1998, especially with locals and the owners have now branched out with I Carusi II in St Kilda.
Once you walk in, it has a real homey feeling with an intoxicating aroma of fresh pizza dough. Oh and if you don’t know the people sitting next to you, their proximity will most definitely have you become friends by the end of the night!
Spoilt for choice here, there are 22 savoury pizzas to choose from, but I can’t go past Alla Moda di Giuseppe with mozzarella, caramelised onion, potato and rosemary. I dabble with other combinations but end up choosing this one every single time!
And if you have a sweet tooth (or more than just one like me!) there are nine dessert pizzas on offer! Dark chocolate and strawberries is my pick but you should also try the pear and chocolate or a triple chocolate calzone, all served with a scoop of lush vanilla bean ice cream.
(4) Plus 39 (or +39 or più 39)
362 Little Bourke Street
Recently tried +39 based purely on a friends recommendation and because I thought the name (the country calling code for Italy) was really clever.
Olive oil, rosemary and sea salt focaccia was a fantastic accompaniment to our bufala mozzarella and San Daniele prosciutto antipasto.
Then for the main event – pizza! Now while it didn’t disappoint, I did make a regulation choice error in my pizza selection. I went for the Tirolese which had fior di latte and gorgonzola cheese, caramelised leek and speck (a pancetta type ham especially popular in northern Italy). Surprisingly for me, the type of gorgonzola used was a bit too overpowering but the quality of the pizza, unquestionable.
Others with me enjoyed the classic Margherita and San Daniele prosciutto pizza. There were no complaints!
We thoroughly enjoyed dessert too. Cannoli Siciliani – Sicilian style crispy cannoli filled with chocolate and ricotta mousse at one end and tangy lemon and cinnamon ricotta mousse at the other.
I will return to +39 ASAP to try another pizza and also the Roman Chips (hand cut potato chips served with parmesan), which are apparently a house specialty.
224 Gertrude Streeet
Located in the ultra cool Gertrude Street in Fitzroy – one of Melbourne’s more eclectic districts – Ladro (Italian for thief) is just as popular and packed as it was years back when it opened. With communal dining on white marble benches, you go to Ladro for the vibe just as much as for the pizza and other menu items. It’s one of my old favorites in Melbourne.
Ladro’s signature pizza and my pick is the Badabing with provolone cheese, pork sausage, oregano, fresh chilli and basil. It’s to die for. But I also recommend their Boscaiola with fior di latte, porcini, field mushrooms and thyme.
For dessert you can’t go past the ‘bomboloni’ – Italian fried donuts, filled with chocolate custard, dusted with sugar and served with vanilla ice cream and blood orange syrup. Need I say more? Yum! But look, if donuts aren’t your thing (can’t imagine why!), then try the pepper, clove and vanilla pannacotta with honey poached granny smith apples.
So, if you live in Melbourne or come to visit and want to channel the old country, I hope you’ll enjoy my recommendations.
Do you have any to add to my list? Would love to try Always somewhere new!
Will follow up soon with more suggestions for Italian restaurants. Just because I’m not there right now, doesn’t mean I can’t Rome in Melbourne!
Signing off from Melbourne (but thinking of Rome always)