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16° & RAINY ON SATURDAY 15 DECEMBER IN AUCKLAND
By Stephen Heard
November 21, 2018
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400 Gradi

Head to the airport early for this world-class pizzeria.
By Stephen Heard
November 21, 2018
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Gone are the days when a sad excuse for a burger is the only form of sustenance available before a long haul. You can now sample "the best pizza in Oceania" as part of your pre-flight ritual.

As part of a 30-year vision to build "the airport of the future," Melbourne pizzeria 400 Gradi joins a lineup of 27 new and redeveloped in-terminal restaurants at Auckland Airport. After airport security, past the piercing glow of duty free and nestled in the corner of the new food hall next to established eateries Better Burger, Mexico and Best Ugly Bagels, 400 Gradi offers both sit-in and takeaway options for hungry travellers. Upon ordering, diners are given a food court-style buzzer to alert when their meal is ready for consumption.

While the outside is nothing special, it's what arrives from the oven that makes this airport eatery a little bit different. To offer a little backstory: back in 2014, founder Johnny Di Francesco's margherita was famously crowned best in the world at the Campionato Mondiale Della Pizza (Pizza World Championship), beating 600 competitors from across the globe. This year, the pizza enthusiast added a few more trophies to his cabinet including the title of Best Pizza in Oceania at the second annual 50 Top Pizza Awards in Naples, and the unofficial record for the world's cheesiest pizza — the limited edition pie is topped with a whopping 150 different cheeses.

So what's the pizza like?

Di Francesco's world-class margherita is just that. Arriving out of the gas-fired oven within minutes — it cranks at 400 degrees — the result has all the attributes of an award-winning pie. The crust is soft and chewy, the base is crispy yet foldable and charred bubbles add a delightful touch of smokiness to the whole experience. On paper the eatery is listed as an authentic Neapolitan — though I'm not sure this actually qualifies under international regulations using a gas-fired oven. Regardless, almost all of the ingredients are Italian in origin. The dough is created with 00 flour, san marzano tomatoes have been whipped for a creamy base sauce, the fior di latte cheese coverage is generous and basil is dotted at random on top. It's cut into four slices.

While clearly the most popular, the margarita isn't the only pizza on offer — there's also one option boasting rocket and very very hot salami; a folded calzone filled with ricotta, fior di latte, prusciutto cotto, salami and basil; and a white-base pizza topped with zucchini, capsicum and eggplant.

Further dishes worth turning up three hours early for include arancini bolognese risotto balls, which are served as three in a spicy Napoli sauce; potato gnocchi which comes topped with a generous dollop of ricotta; and a chunky but slightly dry lamb ragu pappardelle with pecorino. The restaurant is open for the majority of the day — from 4.30am to 11pm — making pizza an entirely acceptable option for breakfast. For those after more traditional breakfast foods, an early morning menu is available.

With the restaurant situated airside at Auckland International Airport, you'll need to be heading across international waters to try this one.

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