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  • Writer's pictureSpiced Cranachan

Simple Food Done Well

I have a turbulent relationship with Italian restaurants. I love pasta and would be content eating only this for the rest of my life, but I've been burned more than once.

Whether it's soft, lifeless fettuccine or an under-seasoned sauce or even a menu that drones on for pages and pages and boasts an endless list of dishes that couldn't possibly be fresh... Italian cooking has a number of common pitfalls.

But every so often I find a place that ticks my boxes. I don't need a fancy meal with a name I can't spell and ingredients I've never heard of. A simple dinner done well is an achievement by itself, and something that is often overlooked.

This was what I found in Osteria el Portal; simple dishes done well. I had spent a week in Xela living out of a storage cupboard and eating quite cheaply on tortillas, huevos and frijoles. And I began a bit of a treat.

Cue, Italian saviour.

My drink of the evening: an Espresso Martini

It might not be the most impressive of cocktails but it's one I tend to choose quite often. I started the evening with an Espresso Martini - not just because it's a personal favourite, but because I NEEDED to try it with the local coffee beans which so far had completely won me over.

Turns out, Guatemalan coffee and Russian vodka make for quite the pairing. My usual sipping drink was gone before the main course arrived.

This gave me ample opportunity to try the Clericot, a white wine sangria with oranges, apple, peaches and some kind of liqueur. The glass was bigger than my head, and a good thing too; it was delicious.

Pesto Fusilli with Prawn and Sundried, Caramelised Tomatoes
Fusilli with Pesto, Prawn and Caramelised Sundried Tomatoes

Simple food, done well.

I had built up somewhat of an appetite by the time the main dish came. I'm pleased to announce I wasn't disappointed with any small portions. On the contrary, the pasta was accompanied by freshly baked bread and I finished it feeling completely satisfied.

The pesto was flavourful but didn't drown the pasta, which was thankfully cooked al dente. And the caramelised sundried tomatoes were a great lift to the otherwise heavy dish - if only there were a few more!

The prawns weren't wholly necessarily but didn't take away from the dish, so no complaints here! They were well cooked and soft, butterflied and buttery.

Tiramisu, in something of a goldfish tank

The dessert echoed the philosophy I've cried this entire article: a simple dish, uncomplicated, executed to perfection.

Tiramisu can often be a bland affair or an overwhelming combination of coffee and alcohol.

I was a little apprehensive at the sheer size of this dessert at first, and I hoped the colourful display of corn wasn't an attempt to hide something lacking in the dish.

How wrong I was.

The chocolate on top was a mixture of the typical powder and flakesof Guatemalan chocolate. If you've ever experienced the chocolate here, you'll know it is full of rich flavours and less sugary than our European counterparts. The mascarpone was thick and creamy, and the ladyfingers sang with coffee and Amaretto flavours.

It was a moreish dish that had us thankful for the size, and it completely won me over.

Guatemalan hot chocolate: a creamy, thick, rich affair

I rolled myself back home.

Osteria el Portal is a welcome break from the busy streets of Xela. The place is quiet, yet elegant and the staff are friendly, yet not overbearing.

Much of the food here is typical of the region and I don't mean to underestimate its qualities. But it is nice to have flavours closer to home, and to have a treat when meals start to become consistent and predictable.

For those visiting Xela and wanting something a little different, I present to you: Osteria el Portal.


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