It was the question on everyone's lips in the lunchtime queue snaking out of 400 Gradi's door: is it really the best margherita pizza in the world?
The reputation of this unassuming Brunswick East pizza joint is already sound. Piazzaiolo and owner Johnny Di Francesco is a champion of the stringent standards promoted by Naples' Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. 400 Gradi is one of only a handful of Australian pizza restaurants to meet the AVPN's rigorous (and some would say pedantic) standards. This includes a wood-fired oven capable of reaching 400 degrees, hand-blended sugo made only from San Marzano tomatoes and salt, "00" flour, minimal yeast and a fermentation process in the order of 24 to 36 hours. He cooks his pizza (between 60 and 90 seconds is all it takes) in a brick oven made from materials imported from Naples.
But back to that margherita. Maybe it was the perfect storm of school holidays combined with Friday's win by Di Francesco at the World Pizza Championships in Parma (he took out the specialita traditionale garantita pizza prize for his margherita, beating 600 entrants from 35 countries, including six from Australia). The pizzaiolos at 400 Gradi were working hard at the coalface, shovelling margheritas into the oven faster than you could say "another Peroni please".
To score it like an Olympic judge, the 400 Gradi margherita gets a 10 for deliciousness but a 7 for texture. The base should ideally be thin and lightly crisp – pliable (you should be able to fold it like a wallet, without any cracks appearing in the base), but not a Sao biscuit. This base was soggy in the centre so there was no choice but to eat it with a knife and fork, although the crust was a delightfully airy, blistered puff.
The dough's flavour was excellent, however. He's certainly a good judge of the salt. Although it was the perfection of the topping – a generous hand on the DOP-designated buffalo mozzarella, the naturally sweet tomato sugo and a few whole basil leaves – that demonstrates why margherita is the king (sorry, queen) of pizza.
Larissa Dubecki is the chief restaurant critic for The Age.