MELBOURNE | Ever since the first wave of Italian immigrants reached these shores in the 1950s and introduced real pizza to the people of Melbourne, the question of where to find the best pizza in Melbourne has been a difficult one to answer. It’s tough not only because there’s so much quality out there these days, but also because there are so many types of pizza, all good in their own way. From the original pizza style of Naples, to Roman style pizza and more modern, experimental varieties, there are good examples of all to be found in this city.
Our quest to find the best pizza in Melbourne also represents the first in a new series on The City Lane. In the “North v South” series, we team up with Justin and the team over at Local Eyes as we search for the best examples of a chosen food in Melbourne. The City Lane covers the North and Local Eyes the South. It might be North v South but it’s not really a competition – we just want to make sure we’ve tried and tested as much as possible to give you the best list we can. Forget those lists out there that are the culmination of somebody spending an afternoon doing Google searches – we only recommend things that we can personally vouch for.
So without further ado, here’s the list. We’d also love to hear from you in the comments section below. What’s your favourite type of pizza? Is your favourite spot on this list?
Johnny Di Francesco is a pizza master whose Neapolitan pizzas at 400 Gradi have been voted amongst the world’s best, collecting many awards and accolades over the years. What is it that makes the pizzas at 400 Gradi so good? It’s the adherence to traditions that go back to when the first pizzas were made in Naples, the use of quality ingredients and care at all stages of the process. Ingredients come from Naples, but not always – it’s about ensuring that the best possible ingredients are used. For example, Johnny imports his water from Naples as the water in Melbourne isn’t quite right, but he uses a special local mozzarella, which is made fresh for 400 Gradi daily, to Johnny’s exact specifications.
What this all means for the customer is the closest thing to the perfect pizza. A thin, springy base and high quality toppings – all at just the right ratio to let the flavour of the dough and ingredients shine. Pizzas are cooked fast in the custom built wood fired ovens at, you guessed it, 400 degrees Celsius. The other simple Italian food on the menu is very good too. There are branches at Crown in Southbank and in Essendon, but for the original experience, nothing beats ordering a Margherita pizza and taking in the atmosphere of the Brunswick East venue, which has been pumping out the good stuff since 2009.
99 Lygon Street
St Domenico Pizza Bar
St Domenico is the newest venue in this list, having only opnened in 2015 but has already made quite the reputation for itself, brining quality Neapolitan pizza to a part of Melbourne that had been lacking in the style. A thin base and soft bubbly crust dominates, topped with an array of ingredients sourced both locally and from Italy. It’s all cooked in the Italian stone oven which gets up to the requisite temperature. We’re big fans of the Salsiccia – San Antonio Abate pork and fennel sausage, roasted apple, fior di latte, sage and balsamic vinegar. Unlike some of the other places in town that specialise in Neapolitan pizza, St Domenico includes some non-traditional topping combinations with the same quality ingredients ethos. The very mention of Hawaiian pizza sends many into fits of rage but it’s worth trying here to see just how different Hawaiian pizza done well can actually taste.
The menu is based on owner Roberto Tarquinio’s grandmother’s recipes and contains a good selection of non-pizza options too, including some impressive vegetarian options.
St Domenico Pizza Bar
428 Bridge Road
DOC Pizza & Mozzarella Bar
For a while, the traditional Italian restaurant strip in the Carlton section of Lygon Street was in a bit of a dire state. Many quality establishments had closed down, a lot of restaurants were focused on the high volume tourist trade and food in the area seemed perpetually stuck in the 1970s. Thankfully things have moved on in this part of town and while there are still plenty of places that you should avoid, DOC is not one of them. Tony Nicolini opened DOC in 2007 but had already built a reputation for quality pizza making before that as one of the pioneers of Melbourne’s “better pizza” movement of the mid 2000s.
The pizzas aren’t wood fired, so lack some of that nice smokey char but still arrive with a beautifully thin, crispy, tasty base. Ingredients are of the highest quality, and are a mixture of local and Italian – it’s not the source of the ingredient that’s of most concern at DOC, rather the quality and taste. For those who don’t want pizza, there are salads, mozzarella and smallgoods to order, and there’s also DOC Espresso and DOC Delicatessen around the corner on Lygon Street with a slightly different focus.
If you can’t make it Northside, there are also DOC Pizza & Mozzarella Bars in Albert Park and Mornington. We haven’t been to those branches, but hear that the pizzas are every bit as good as at the original.
DOC Pizza & Mozzarella Bar
295 Drummond Street
Woodstock Pizzicheria is where we go when we want something other than our preferred Neapolitan pizza. The pizzas at Woodstock are Roman style, and the rest of the menu is a showcase of traditional Sicilian food, which is where owner Tony Cannata traces back his family heritage to. The pizzas are wood fired and have a thin crispy base and feature a higher topping to base ratio than a Neapolitan pizza. Sometimes the bases here can be lacking in crispiness but generally they are on point. Toppings are of the highest quality, with DOP certified San Marzano tomatoes ensuring a sweeter, less acidic tomato base.
Our favourite pizza on the menu is the San Daniele, which uses San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and paper thin slices of prosciutto San Daniele which has been aged over 24 months. The pasta at Woodstock is really good too. There are outlets in Brunswick East, Fitzroy North and Essendon, with a Chadstone branch opening later on this year. If you want the best atmosphere check out the original Fitzroy location, but if you don’t have a booking and want to dine in, the larger Brunswick East location is your best bet.
612 Nicholson Street
I Carusi is one of the first places in Melbourne that did proper Neapolitan pizza and, despite a change in owners and the passing of many years, it’s still up there with the best. It’s all about tradition and authenticity at i Carusi, with a pliable charred base cooked fast at 400 degrees Celcius in the wood fired oven being topped with generally no more than 4 ingredients of the highest quality.
The space is small and unassuming, located in amongst the warehouses at the top end of Lygon Street, and there’s a small dining area if you want to eat in. There are a few other items on the menu – a few pastas and salads along with some mains & desserts but whenever we visit, it’s straight to the pizza menu, generally for a Capricciosa and, if we’re in the mood for something sweet, a dark chocolate and strawberry pizzetta from the dessert pizza menu.
46A Holmes Street
This on-trend pizzeria in Malvern, which also has an outpost in Hawthorn East, swaps cliched chequered table clothes for a pared back and moody interior popular with the young, local crowds. Diners can expect crispy golden bases from this south-eastern favourite, which was recently named the Best Pizza in Australia as part of the Global Pizza Challenge. The winner of that title was their 18-hour braised beef cheek pizza with celeriac and a truffle oil finish, which now holds pride of place as a regular on the menu. Despite its growing popularity, Pizza Religion has retained its small service base with seats for around 30 diners at one time. This means its essential to either get in early or grab a takeaway slice to enjoy at home. Glutards can also rejoice in the gluten-free bases available.
12-18 Claremont Avenue
The focus at celebrity chef Karen Martini’s low-lit pizzeria is on the quality of the dough – with an emphasis on achieving balance using high quality flour, fresh yeast, semolina and oil. Mr Wolf is transparent about how they perfect this process, which is why you can actually download their pizza dough recipe from their website (there’s a coeliac option too). The restaurant serves up classic Roman-style pizzas with a thin crust and simplistic, but punchy, toppings. The wider menu is also fleshed out with solid regional Italian antipasti, salads and an enticing dessert menu. It’s worth noting that Mr Wolf has a side-bar, Little Wolf, which is perfect for an intimate wine before or after dinner.
9-15 Inkerman Street
48H Pizza & Gnocchi Bar
Take a short walk off Chapel Street and you’ll find 48H Pizza & Gnocchi Bar, a newcomer on the pizza scene that has been turning heads for its dedication to simple Italian cuisine done with exceptional ingredients and a love for the Motherland. While owners Fabio and Michele promote 48H as being a gnocchi-focused venue, they’ll have to admit that the pizzas are worthy of some attention too.
Having imported a specialty oven from Italy (which has capacity to churn out five pizzas in 60 seconds), the pizzas here are light, crisp and magically retain the smoky wood-fired taste of a clay oven despite being cooked in an electric oven. 48H is dedicated to showing off just how diverse Italian food can be while also retaining some long-standing favourites. The toppings are deliciously simple with the Bressanone, for instance, making excellent use of just four toppings – green apple, Gorgonzola cheese, speck, and rosemary.
48H Pizza & Gnocchi Bar
373 Malvern Road
It’s rumoured that to honour Queen Margherita of Savoy, a Neapolitan pizza maker created a pizza garnished with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, to represent the national colours of the Italian flag, and voila – the “Pizza Margherita” was born. This historical reference and nod to the origins of one of the world’s most popular pizzas is fitting for this Hampton pizzeria, which is run by Marco De Pietrantonio, the son of Ubaldo who opened the famous Pinocchio in South Yarra in 1971.
Together the father and son duo have decades of refined hospitality experience between them, which shows in the way you are greeted at the door up until tasting that first delicious slice of cheesy heaven. The menu here offers both traditional pizzas, such as Napolitano and Margherita, as well as more adventurous combinations such as the vegetarian Vedure or fiery Sorpressa. Queen Margherita has a generous BYO wine policy – with no charge for corkage.
8/532 Hampton Street
The north might have D.O.C. but the south has A25. Owner Remo Nicolini has an impressive pedigree, having previously owned Little Bourke Street’s +39 Pizzeria before moving on to A25 and simultaneously operating Non Solo Pasta in Docklands. There’s a touch of friendly competition in the air with Remo being the brother of Tony, the owner of the D.O.C. pizza empire.
As you might imagine from the neon sign buzzing ‘Pizza Is Sexy’ as guests walk through the door, A25 sets out to surprise diners with its provocatively named pizzas. Perhaps try the L.S.D., an unusual combo of Italian sausage, date cream, radicchio and liquorice dust, or the more subdued Sexy Truffle, which lets the humble fungus do the talking with truffle cream, mushroom and parmesan. For dessert try the Nutella pizza with coconut snow, vanilla ice cream, strawberry and mint.
720 Chapel Street