To those of us becoming increasingly less inclined to wipe the mud splatters from the year number on our registration plates, the little West Cork town of Ballinspittle will be forever associated with the summer of ’85, when statues of the Virgin Mary began to ‘move’ all over the country, creating quite a kerfuffle in Ireland and the world beyond.
Some wags suggested these energetic effigies were simply of a mind to join the mass exodus of emigration that then prevailed, keen to join queues at Shannon Airport heading for New York or to board the Slattery’s bus to London.
The cynical simply dismissed it as a canny connivance on the part of small-town publicans and B&B owners.
The ‘serious’ commentators also weighed in, suggesting it was the final reactive spasms of those still clinging to old ways and Ballinspittle became a byword for a disappearing conservative Catholic Ireland.
In 2016, Ballinspittle is still the same sleepy little village, a seemingly random meeting point for various routes to the coast and the hinterland beyond.
The friendly, relaxed welcome is the same as ever but there is a newly independent spirit abroad, not least courtesy of surfers from nearby Garretstown Beach.
Having moved to Ireland from the US in 2000, Doherty ran a cafe in nearby Kinsale and sold her superb cakes and confectionery at farmers markets.
She subsequently opened Diva Boutique cafe in 2006 and, while a natural fit for the ‘G-Town’ surf mob, the addition of a bakery and delicatessen ensured a clientele far beyond the surfing fraternity.
It is several years since my last visit and we, La Daughter, Comrade ML, and myself, neither surfers nor Marian devotees, find the menu, along with the décor, having evolved substantially; to be expected in a hipster hangout in Brooklyn, yet somehow also perfectly at home in bucolic Ballinspittle.
Having anticipated a pleasant sandwich before diving headfirst into some confected occasion of sin, we realise lunch itself has become quite the proposition.
A bowl of homecooked fries with aioli for La Daughter turns into a free-for-all as delicious crisp chips of deep-fried potato disappear in a flurry.
Our tacos are an internationalist affair: Fine Irish produce on Lily Ramirez’s Mexican corn tortillas, all served with in-house Korean kimchi. Korean beef is tender strips of marinaded flank sporting a delightful chilli kick while the veggie version features black beans and the sweet sugars of slowroasted squash — but it is the fish taco that trips the switch.
Crunching through a feather-light nutty tempura batter, impossibly fresh haddock within slides away in succulent sweet slabs.
The Cubano (toasted focaccia with roast pork, ham, pickle, gherkin, and cheese) apparently emerged from the Cuban diaspora community in Florida.
It is a rendition of same sold from the back of his food truck by fictional character Carl Casper (played by Jon Favreau), in the movie Chef, that not only revives his flagging career but, furthermore, saves his moribund marriage.
Pretty impressive but then that’s fiction; Doherty’s version, on the other hand, would not only revive a career but could, at a pinch, raise the dead.
Better still, the bread is not toasted but buttered on each side then grilled to a heavenly caramelised crunch.
La Daughter orders our dessert, a slice of “the big cake with the pink stuff on top”, a wonderful rendition of carrot cake with a traditional cream cheese icing, dense lightly-spiced cake leavened by a gentle lactic kick, enjoyed with several decent coffees.
All in all, it is one of the finest lunches enjoyed in many a moon, particularly as we hadn’t anticipated such excellent fare.
Superb local produce cooked unpretentiously yet with real flair and imagination — and what’s more we get to leave with some splendid sourdoughs and cakes from the bakery.
I’ll leave the original statue for another day but I’ll definitely be making a return pilgrimage to pay homage to this particular Diva.
Closed Mon/Tues, Wed-Sun: 9.30am to 5pm, Sun 11am-5pm
€37.20 (excluding tip)
“… superb local produce cooked unpretentiously yet with real flair and imagination.”