Last year, Johnny di Francesco’s margherita pizza was judged the best in the world at the Campionato Mondiale Della Pizza (Pizza World Championships).

But a margherita-pizza gelato? Has the 400 Gradi chef and owner gone too far?

Turns out, it’s pretty good.

We tasted it last night at the launch of the third 400 Gradi restaurant in Essendon, which opens on Keilor Road at 5pm tonight. The experimental new gelato flavour was a preview of what will be served two doors down from the Brunswick East original, when the Zero Gradi gelataria opens in February next year.

Differing slightly from the first two Neopolitan-style 400 Gradis in Brunswick East and Crown, the Essendon restaurant emphasises slow-cooked meats. “The menu we’ve created here has been taken to another level. It’s not a big menu, but we’ve really concentrated on quality,” says Di Francesco.

What’s more, soon there’s going to be the Zero Gradi gelato bar. There'll be 12 Italian flavours to try that are, “Creamy, milky and clean,” says Di Francesco, who believes if you’ve ever had a traditional gelato in Italy, tasting his will take you back to that exact moment.

Just like Di Francesco’s approach to perfecting the margherita pizza, the gelato has been stripped back to its simplest form, using the highest quality seasonal ingredients for the best natural flavours.

“When you’re taking on the classics, there’s nowhere to hide. If you haven’t used really good lemons, it shows,” says Di Francesco.

The lemon juice for the lemon granita is from Sicily. “The flavour is just exceptional and really hits you,” says Di Francesco. “It’s probably my favourite.”

With 11 classic flavours mastered (such as chocolate, lemon, pistachio and hazelnut) Di Francesco couldn’t resist creating a margherita-inspired gelato, too.

It represents the colours and components of a margherita pizza – using red homemade liqueur sponge, green organic leaf extract and homemade zabaglione (a sweet Italian dessert, which is off-white in colour).

“When you eat it, if you think about it, it has the characteristics of a margherita pizza. The sponge shares a similar texture to the dough of the pizza, the zabaglione is like mozzarella and the green had to come from a leaf because of the basil,” says Di Francesco.

400 Gradi Essendon
Shop 1, 110 Keilor Road, Essendon

Mon to Wed 5pm–11pm
Thu to Sun 12pm–11pm

Zero Gradi (opening February 2016)
Shop 1, 93–97 Lygon Street, Brunswick East