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Emilia reviews a pizza joint in East Melbourne which Russel highly recommended!

emilia reviews
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158 Clarendon St

East Melbourne 

My investigative food journalism journey continues, (I learned the hard way last week not to abbreviate in your notes before going on live radio, won’t make that mistake again).

This week I went to investigate what’s got Russel so excited about a local pizza joint in East Melbourne. Russ came in a couple of weeks back buzzing about a pizza he’d tried recently. Since then, it seems every week he could tell us a new feature of this pizza joint; friendly, perfect ‘ancient grain’ crust (we’ll get back to this), perfect location – near the MCG and across the road from the Fitzroy Gardens, great people.

And Russel, I get it.

After some research, I realised that for me, this was a call back of sorts to my very first on-air food review, Zero95 in Doncaster East which was voted world’s best pizza in 2016.

Turns out, Francesco Crifo, Roccella’s now head pizza chef was slinging pizzas at Zero95 at the time of the award, that’s where Roccella found him and brought him over. Crifo grew up in Italy around his dad’s restaurants so his love for pizza has spanned most of his life.

After visiting Roccella, it’s much more than just pizza though, and whilst I will urge you to get down to try their pizza, if there’s anything that comes across today it’s that they have a hold on both their front and back of house in a genuine but mastered way.

The owner Bruno saw Eataly going bunta all over the world; NYC, Milan, Sao Paulo and Harajuku. Using his experience in large scale branding and hospitality and bringing it into a family style restaurant, they are open all day, from 8:30am 7 days a week.

You feel that the background works like a well oiled machine which allows the front of house staff the time and energy to give the ultimate customer experience. Our server, Manny was an Italian born Londoner who was giving Australia a go; fabulous, helpful, attentive, some of the best customer service I’ve had in a long time. 

Get your votes in for whether you think pineapple belongs on pizza because Francesco has taken it and made it his own. Having grown up in Italy he naturally felt some internal push back but using his artistry (his words) allowed him to feel happy to serve his own take on a Hawaiian pizza, Smoked Ananas.

I, personally, am a huge pineapple on pizza fan and I’ve just found my new favourite. As the name suggests, he smokes and roasts the pineapple, matched with the freshness of Prosciutto di Parma, a bite into it has creamy, oozing (also so fresh) stracciatella and topped with balsamic glaze. 

We compared that to the Patate e Salsiccia pizza on the traditional sourdough base, just delightful, simple food that pleases.

We also tried some other potentially controversial dishes; beetroot gnocchi was a stand out for me, the depth of flavour with the earthiness of the beetroot juice in the gnocchi cuts through the possibility of the four cheese sauce being too overbearing. Good different.

I’m jumping back to the start here, with Nonna’s Meatballs on a bed of polenta. Naturally, their southern Italian background snuck the polenta through. The bite sized meatballs meant you were able to indulge without feeling like you had sugo dripping down your face, imperative when trying to fit as much Italian in as much as possible.

We also devoured the lamb shoulder, which was tender and we sopped up the honey glaze with every bite.

After ordering, the owner Bruno cottoned on to my connection to Russel so brought out his favourite pizza. Buffalo mozzarella on an ancient grain base. Ultimately simple, but I get it. It feels light, especially for a pizza. In the most bogan but best way, we compared it to having an upmarket version of cheese and crackers, crunch and oozing with cheese. 

We had gluten free desserts, cannoli, creamy panna cotta and chocolate sponge topped with raspberry gelato and I hear the gluten free bases are fantastic as well. Keeping everyone happy, they make their own vegan ham in house too because they couldn’t find any good enough.

We spoke late into the night, much later than I usually allow for a school night but I was just having such a ball learning about how they made it through COVID, having just opened, how they opened an extra room dedicated to the people of East Melbourne for getting them through the lockdowns, the little details like how they set out the rooms so each one has a different personalities, paintings on the walls from Bruno’s Nonna’s beach house, how he grew up as an Italian boy in North Melbourne.

The price point is reflective of an upmarket Italian joint, pizza’s from $24, a parma at $38, gnocchi $30, sides and starters around $15.

The true magic of Roccella, they know how to connect; through food and through service.

(You can also do pizza master classes with the master, Francesco).

emilia reviews