”Producing the right pizza comes from the heart… Real Neapolitan – style pizza is just a beautiful thing.” Johnny Di Francesco
I’m a traditionalist when it comes to food. I’m a fan of kneaded, hand-thrown dough, prepared with love, kissed by the smoke of a wood-fired oven as the sauce broodingly simmers on the stove. We’re not just talking about the ingredients, the lack of preservatives and additives; it’s also the notion of ‘slow’. In my eyes, there’s a generosity of spirit spent on hours of preparation, which is rewarded with an equal measure of lingering flavour.
Yes, I enjoy experimentation, but let’s not kid ourselves that incongruent ingredients always improve a regional dish! And let’s not pretend that labour-saving devices and shortcuts lead to more flavour!
Take pizza (or pasta) for example. Pizza would have to rank as one of our most ‘abused’ traditional dishes. Shuddering and dripping, ‘pizzas’ emerge from metal conveyor belts, are flounced into cardboard boxes to emerge sagging and spent at dinner tables across Australia. Don’t even start me on cardboard-like biscuit bases, pineapple or eggplant toppings…
Although pizza was first documented in 997AD, it was not until 1984 that the ‘Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana’ (True Neapolitan Pizza Association) was founded to protect and promote authentic Napoletana pizza. In December 2009, the ‘pizza napoletana’ was granted Traditional Specialty Guaranteed status by the European Union.
The association sets out the specific rules that must be followed to make an authentic Neapolitan pizza. The base must be made from certified ‘00’ flour to a specific recipe, hand kneaded rested for a certain period of time… Using only San Marzano tomatoes grown in the only ‘DOP’ region on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, for topping, the pizza must be of specific dimensions and, (very importantly), baked in a wood-fired domed oven at 400 degrees Celsius for no more than 90 seconds.
Around the world, pizzerias strive to gain V.P.N. accreditation for their pizzas. Australia is no exception, yet there are only nine restaurants in Australia that have been granted that status.
We’re following the hordes on a quest to find the holy grail of pizza. Not the biggest, nor the most top-heavy; not the most exotic or ‘gourmet’, not pizza the way we as Aussies have grown to love it… but the most ‘authentic’. So, which of our pizzas are close to how pizza is made in Italy (although we know how much that varies), and how tasty are they? In our books, there are four major contenders, each one different but excellent:
2685 Gold Coast Highway, Broadbeach Ph: 07 5504 7413
“It is all about the oven,” Paul Carney tells me, pointing to the huge wood-fired pizzaiolo oven, which has been imported from Italy, “and the traditional recipes which we learned from our Nonna.” Paul, one of four brothers, shares the management of Gemelli with his younger brothers, identical twins James and Alec (hence the name ‘gemelli’ – ‘twins’ in Italian).
Their family originated in Abruzzo, a region that produces some of the best food in Italy. Abruzzo has a varied cuisine due to its geography, touching both mountains and sea, but Gemelli’s menu features only a few of its diverse regional dishes, as well as other favourites they’ve discovered on their travels.
“We’ve cut down the menu to our favourite dishes,” Paul says, “but we’re making them as traditionally as we can, with as few ingredients as possible; more like Italians would make them.”
The consistent theme is traditional ‘handmade’. Sugo is made daily, pasta including gnocchi is handmade daily, pasta dough hand thrown by pizza chef Daniele (also from Abruzzo), and the pizzas are cooked for little over a minute, so the crust is just right. The rustic trattoria, brushed Italian granite bar and open ceiling are indications of what to expect in the cuisine: rich in flavour and texture, it’s traditionally made food to be enjoyed in a funky contemporary setting.
NOTE: Gemelli’s owners also own Gemellini and Roy’s.
Double Zero Pizza
2/2715 Gold Coast Highway, Broadbeach Ph: 07 5526 8635
Double Zero has the feel of a semi-industrial working kitchen, with the newly arrived white-tiled dome of the Stefano Ferrara M 130 oven overseeing the restaurant like a Madonna. Renowned throughout Europe over the past 150 years, the Ferrara is fired only by wood. It holds the key to 400 degree heat, an essential element in the making of a true Napoletana pizza.
“Making pizza is a science,” owner Matthew tells us, “and we’re trying to craft our pizzas as they would be made in Naples; in a modern way based on Napoletana techniques. It’s all about the quality of ingredients, and the attention to detail. Our Costantini tomatoes are already twice cooked. They’re expensive but their flavour is so important. We only use accredited ‘00’ flour, and our pizzaoili, Nicola Masci, has been making pizzas for many years. In fact, everyone who works in the kitchen is Italian!”
After a couple of starters, we begin the main event: a Margherita Verace, allegedly named after Queen Margherita of Italy. It’s the ‘little black dress’ of pizza, beautiful in its simplicity. Twice folded, as it would be eaten in Naples, the crust is light and a little chewy, subtly smoked in flavour from the red gum fire, and melty & luscious in the centre. The sweetness of tomato and creamy saltiness of buffalo mozzarella are perfectly balanced on the palate.
It’s that passion for detail that is steering Double Zero toward becoming the first accredited V.P.N. pizzeria in Queensland. We’re reminded that it takes commitment and an eye for detail to transform something simple into something great.
Footnote: In 2015, Double Zero was accredited by Vera Pizza Napoletana Association, the very first pizzeria in Queensland serving the true Neapolitan style pizza. Congratulations!
Shop 2G01 Capri on Via Roma, 15 Via Roma, Isle of Capri
Situated on the southern face of Capri on Via Roma, Cicchetti Pizza + Pasta Bar is an elegant masculine space.
Pizza and pasta are the Italian dishes we love, but there’s no attempt to allude to casual beach culture here, no fusion of elements, just Italian class in this once fine dining restaurant.
Seating 130 diners, there are plenty of dining options. Whether you sit indoors, at the bar or alfresco at high tables, it’s as relaxed as you could get!
Recently Cicchetti scored a major win for Best Pizza Restaurant in Queensland at The Savour Australia Hostplus Awards for Excellence; a win that puts them in contention for the National Restaurant & Catering Awards to be held in October 2016.
“We knew our pizzas were good because our customers are always telling us they are; and we couldn’t ask for anything better than being recognised as the Best Pizza Restaurant in Queensland,” says Marco. “Since we opened in October last year, our menu has evolved in line with the Gold Coast market and our customers tastes, and our pizzas are now definitely the highlight. With so many styles of pizza available on the market, we pride ourselves on serving authentic Italian style pizzas.”