When you enter the long corridor to Mostaccioli Brothers, the fairy lights climbing the walls create a charming and simple first impression. This favourable ambience extends to the courtyard, where there are alfresco tables for those who prefer dining out in the lovely spring weather. Inside the main dining room, the eye is drawn to a large painting of the traditional Italian countryside. High ceilings, red tablecloths with white paper coverings and a wall of wine and produce all denote rusticity. Mostaccioli Brothers is opened by El Grande, a group that also operates Grappa’s and Domani: judging from its appearance, this new restaurant falls firmly into the vein of family-friendly Grappa’s-style dining, rather than the higher-end Domani.
While we are encouraged not to judge a book by its cover, most diners will find it difficult to not judge a restaurant by its menu, especially when it’s littered with spelling mistakes. How authentic can an Italian restaurant be if they manage to spell both “puttanesca” and “Chicago” wrong? Regardless, we plough on with the appetisers, which are encouraged to be shared family-style. To start, we try an assortment of Italian cheeses, the buffalo mozzarella and a chunk of gorgonzola with candied walnut and pear poached in red wine. The mozzarella is flavourful and fresh, as it is delivered from Italy every other day. The only flaw of the dish is that the fist-sized mozzarella comes with four tiny cherry tomatoes on the vine, which proportion-wise, is clearly inadequate. The gorgonzola is even less successful: it is mild without any bite and the candied walnuts leave an unpleasant residue on the teeth. Moving onto the first course, we try two pastas: the spaghetti carbonara, which the menu proclaims proudly to be original as it is without cream; and the misspelled penne “putanesca”. We applaud Mostaccioli Brothers for creating a carbonara dish authentically without relying on cream as many others do, but that was the only positive aspect of the dish. The spaghetti itself was dry and clumped together, while the flavour was completely bland. The penne puttanesca fared marginally better: it, too, was dry as if it had sat too long under a heat lamp but it did have more bite to it with a strong taste of anchovies and olives. Our meat course of veal scallopini marsala was also a disappointment. For such a young animal, the veal is astonishingly tough while the marsala sauce with mushrooms is over-reduced and sticky. We had hoped that dessert would be the saving grace of this meal: but Mamma Mostaccioli’s tiramisu did not save the day. While the flavour itself is not bad, there were simply not enough coffee-soaked ladyfingers to counter the amount of mascarpone, making it a much heavier dessert than desired.
The wine list is exclusively Italian and red wine-centred. There are seven bottles of white (HK$260-HK$460) and 17 bottles of red (HK$260-HK$1,000). Wines by the glass are extremely reasonable (about HK$30-HK$40) but selection is limited, with only two whites and three reds available by the glass.
The staff at Mostaccioli Brothers is friendly, as befitting a casual, family-style Italian trattoria. They are enthusiastic and genuinely concerned when plates are not finished. One can only hope that diners’ comments and criticisms are actually carried back to the kitchen.
A four-course meal for two including wine comes to less than HK$800 for two. While this is reasonable for Elgin Street, the quality of the food means that this is not the bargain it appears to be.