Sunday, 26 October 2014

Gradi has a home at Crown Melbourne - Recalled To Life

There are too many "food blogs" in Melbourne. I always thought this one differentiated itself because it did not promote spin and it certainly did not romanticise restaurants that provided remuneration or compensation to "turn up" and of course take the requisite photographs that embodied the marketing theme that the campaign of the day dictated. It took a relaxing evening watching the Cricket recently and a few bottles of wine to realise that there are a fair amount of very poor blogs in cyberspace that only survive with marketing dollars or are just a weak photo essay; neither of which take any intelligence or thought just to provide some sort of lame advertising after the writer was compensated a free hamburger or dumpling. When I was passionate about posting on this site before there was never any spin and I never took a bribe to promote an agenda. With that being said, I will introduce Gradi at the Crown Casino in Melbourne which opened a few weeks ago, which has received the customary marketing blurbs in Time Out Melbourne and Gram Magazine, but there has been no formal review until now. Exciting, hey?

The dining room after the lunch rush: Gradi Crown Melbourne
The original and award-winning restaurant is not the newly opened location at the Crown Melbourne, but is in fact 400 Gradi on Lygon Street in Brunswick. This outpost became a talking point when it was recently awarded with the title of "World's Best Pizza" at the World Pizza Championships in Parma, Italy. Much like the awards that are sponsored by San Pellegrino and Lavassa Coffee, it is all subjective I feel. Much like hamburgers and steaks, what one person finds wonderful, another will scoff at and since pizza can be a visceral experience, usually consumed out of a box after making a phone call late at night with a dodgy television show on and a bottle of vodka, dishing out a "best pizza in the world" award is a stretch however I was still keen to taste this fabled creation during my tour de force.

The view of Cory Campbell without the helmet from Gradi
Located where the defunct and once one-hatted restaurant Guiseppe, Arnaldo & Sons once was underneath the Kings Way ramp that now features street art and a dedication to Cory Campbell at Vue de Monde, Gradi (dropping the 400) offers a new and sleek fit-out and falls in-line to the new look that Crown Melbourne is trying to promote - one that disavows the bogans (which take up residence in the newly renovated food court, much like the seagulls do on the promenade) but tries to suck those that are hard and fast with their money into their void, this humble writer included. The principal is Johnny Di Francesco who was not spotted when we visited midweek.

When I finally found the restaurant's telephone number after many clicks, the receptionist was very perky and hospitable. I didn't have a high expectation of this place when I rang however the professionalism and the energy put me in the mood to enjoy a long and relaxed lunch. We were ultimately greeted and seated without much fanfare however we were quickly presented with not only the food menu but the wine list where the vast majority of the vintages languished under the $100 mark.

The interior of Gradi Crown Melbourne
The menu was presented on a humble piece of paper with a pleasant typeset after which the staff invited us to enjoy salumi and formaggi to start - where we elected to indulge upon Hot Cacciatori ($12.50 for 70g) and Bufaletto ($23 for 70g) which when presented on a bed of flat bread which not only made for great presentation but provided utility in consuming the very tasty cheese and meat. The Bufaletto is allegedly DOC. I quizzed the waitron as to whether this was indeed a cheese that produced under the Italian laws enacted in 1955 to protect the names, origins, production methods and characteristics of Italian foods. She said "sure" so I am not sure that she really knew, but one has to give the benefit of the doubt in an Italian restaurant. The Hot Cacciatori was spicy - but not "hot" in terms of eradicating your innards but it made a comfortable starter whilst we engaged upon the beautiful Benanti 2012 'Bianco di Caselle' Etna Bianco. Yet another wine that has raised the bar in Italy, which was mineral-driven and very light which not only paired well with the salumi but the formaggi. There was enough wine left over to enjoy it with the Arancini Del Giorno - the crumbed Italian rice balls accompanied with mascarpone and a parmesan cream ($6/each) which really didn't do much for me besides leaving me thirsty.

The award winning Margherita Verace pizza
The Margherita Verace pizza ($21) is what the punters were flocking far and wide to devour after Johnny won the title of the "World's Best Pizza" so how could we resist? It looked nice and and I have to say it tasted pretty good (in comparison to Pepperoni's on Elizabeth Street after stumbling out pissed from Bar Americano recently comes to mind) however the base was soggy, which I really do not think was planned by the kitchen. I did expect more but then again, it is pizza so you can't hold it to the same standard as a medium rare David Blackmore wagyu at Rockpool Bar and Grill or Ben Shewry's potato at Attica.

The highlight was the next course, the Tagiatelle al tartufo e pecorino sardo ($46) - narrow ribbons of pasta prepared with truffle butter, pecorino sardo and shaved black truffle. This was a dish that was magic and when matched with the 2011 Zuani, yet another DOC wine, which was a blend of nearly everything possible made for the best matched dish of the day. The subdued almond flavours of the wine really complemented the freckled truffle-heavy and intense flavours in the pasta. This dish left an impression and left me really wanting more days after enjoying it.

Impepata di volgole - clams in a cool pot
The Impepata di volgole ($30) - sautéed clams with garlic, lemon, herbs, pepper and wine wine was the final dish. The presentation was lovely and the wedge of lemon did assist in relieving the alkaline taste, which really was not very distracting but more amusing paired with the Petite Arvine Valle d'Aosta, which is yet another DOC wine. I am not saying that I don't like pippis, but I expected more of a garlic flavour however they were fun to eat on the back of the third bottle of wine. The playful presentation in a cool pot left a whimsical impression and after polishing off the third bottle of wine, we ended the very relaxed lunch on a high.

Service was polished throughout the 3.5 hour experience, which is a testament to the processes and procedures that this very young restaurant have already put into place which is a credit to the management. There is a view to the Southbank Promenade but I wouldn't recommend trying to jostle for position as the majority of the outlook is the walkway eclipsed by the offramp that runs over the restaurant. Off course there is a view of street art commissioned by Melbourne City Council that can be enjoyed in between courses. Like with other Crown restaurants, the visiting masses are seemingly tourist and transitory. Would I return? Sure, but on a quarterly basis at most or when I need to entertain a customer.

Crown Melbourne, 8 Whiteman Street, Southbank VIC 3006
(03) 9696 9888
My Rating: 13.75/20
Service: 3.5/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 3.5/5
Value For Money: 3.25/5
X-Factor Multiplier: 1

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

When I posted this review, 44% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Gradi. Still, at the time there was a very limited review pool so it will be interesting to see how this changes over time.

Gradi on Urbanspoon