You may never have visited the west coast of Ireland. It is a place of great beauty but uncertain weather. Many are the days when we have set out hopefully from our holiday house in the mountains in Kerry, heading for western beaches, only to see banks of black cloud lowering.
One particularly dark day a few years ago we hit lucky. Driving through Cahersiveen, a picturesque town on the tourist route, the Ring of Kerry, we spotted Le Petit Delice. In the middle of the town’s magnificently, unrepentantly, utilitarian high street, with ironmongers, butchers, newsagents and chemists rubbing shoulders with cheap clothes shops and a launderette, here was what seemed to be a mirage, an unimpeachably French patisserie. It was like finding a racy suspender belt in the sock drawer of a gentlemen’s outfitters or an exotic flower in the hedgerow. We thought we might have dreamed it.
Inside, however, the vision proved itself true: there were immaculate glazed croissants, authentic brioches, sumptuous parcels of pastry and almond called Jésuites aux Amandes, feathery millefeuilles, individual tartes with every imaginable combination of brightly coloured fruit, clafoutis and profiteroles. As if to ensure that we stayed, the air smelled welcomingly of freshly roasted coffee, which, it turns out, has its own long menu of different beans and roasts.
The children were quickly placated with thick hot chocolate and pains au chocolat, while we experimented with a delicious salmon, asparagus and filo pastry pie and a rich homemade mushroom soup. We were so overwhelmed with admiration for the food, that we started chatting to the proprietor, Madame Aranda. She and her husband, David Aranda, a master boulanger and patissier, moved to Main Street, Cahersiveen, in 2008. They make and serve savoury and sweet pastries as if they were in France. They use only the best Irish butter and fresh local milk, they promise no additives and no preservatives and everything is handmade.
Le Petit Delice has since become for us a favourite destination. We discovered the bread – which tastes the way only French bread in France tastes, because it is made with French flour, fermented over a 12- hour period – and we have run through the repertoire of cakes. We come home laden with large fruit tarts. Inevitably, by 2010, the café had opened another room next door, so that the crowds of people who used to have to queue for a perch next to a raised shelf could sit at proper tables and chairs. With steam from fresh food obscuring the rain outside, you can imagine that you are deep in La France Profonde. Sometimes we come even when it isn’t raining – because then we can have a homemade ice cream or sorbet.