Award-winning Neapolitan-style pizzeria 400 Gradi adds a sixth string to its bow with the opening of a vast restaurant in Mildura this week, its second regional venue in less than a year.
"I'm saying it's probably the best site we've ever done," says founder and chef Johnny Di Francesco.
The 300-seater on the main street of Mildura, in Victoria's north-west, contrasts a black and white palette with brass details and bronze-framed mirrors. Timber floors and a dark stone bar are echoed in a mix of stone and timber furniture across two dining rooms and two private events spaces.
Occupying a mock Tuscan building dating to 1920, the restaurant highlights the region's history and Mediterranean climate. A large underground safe used when the site was a Holden car dealership is now the Gradi wine cellar, while atrium spaces feature a Dethridge wheel, used to measure irrigation flows, and large olive trees. Dean Dyson Architects, who also designed 400 Gradi's Brunswick and Adelaide restaurants, were engaged.
"It fell into our lap," says Di Francesco of the move to Mildura. "We thought: regional is good, we've had great success in Mornington so we just thought we'd continue looking and this popped up."
Following the Mornington blueprint, the Mildura restaurant is complemented by a Zero Gradi gelateria and Gradi Mercato grocer, which also has a deli counter for lunch on the go. In the restaurant, 20 pizzas like marinara and arrabiata join rigatoni with lamb ragu, pan-cooked mussels in white wine and garlic, and a wide range of salumi.
One of the biggest Italian names in town, Stefano De Pieri, is apparently on Team Gradi.
"He's happy we're in the region and that we're bringing a different sort of feel," says Di Francesco, who has partnered with Mildura restaurateur Michael Sarrou on the venture.
Open Wed-Sun noon-11pm (restaurant), 8am-11pm (grocer and gelateria) from May 11.
31-33 Deakin Avenue, Mildura, 400gradi.com.au