IT WAS a close encounter of an extraordinary kind when Hollywood director Steven Spielberg delighted the owners of a tearoom with a special pilgrimage to sample their cheesecake en route to the recent royal wedding in Monaco.
The billionaire movie mogul drove 65km to An Fear Gorta (tea and garden rooms) in Ballyvaughan, Co Clare, after landing at Shannon Airport in his private jet from New York.
He had only a few hours before he was due to jet off to Monaco to attend the wedding last month of Prince Albert and Charlene Wittstock.
But that didn't stop him returning to the tearoom with his family after having visited the area previously in 2009.
Alan Clarke (26), who runs the cafe with his partner Jane O'Donoghue (26), said they were delighted when the Oscar- winning film director and producer rang the night before to reserve a table for lunch the following day.
"He walked in on a busy Saturday and said, 'I'm back for the cheesecake'," Mr Clarke told the Irish Independent. "When a Hollywood director walks in like that it's a bit surreal."
Spielberg discovered the tearoom in 2009 when he was staying with a group of fellow Americans who rent holiday cottages in the area each summer.
Mr Clarke said he was taken aback when one of the group reserved the tearoom for a private party and informed him that a VIP would be in attendance, whom they soon learned would be Spielberg.
"We were so overwhelmed that this man was coming to sample our food," he said.
Their house speciality -- home-baked berry cheesecake selling for ¿4.95 a slice -- is the most popular dessert item and it seems the Hollywood legend can't get enough of it. "He was with his family and friends. I greeted them and he said straight away he was back for the cheesecake he had on his last visit," Mr Clarke said
"He proceeded to an area we had reserved for him; he had quiche for lunch and then said 'bring on the cheesecake'."
Despite his legendary status in Hollywood, Spielberg didn't put on any airs and graces and happily posed for photos with the owners and staff, he added.
"He's probably the most down-to-earth man I've met. When you see him at the Oscars each year and then see him in the flesh . . . we were very humbled.
"He was treated just like anyone else and when he was leaving he had no problem taking some time to talk to the staff and pose for pictures.
"He said he would be back again and that the Burren is one of his favourite places in Europe and told us to keep up the good work."
Unfortunately, the cake had sold out as he was leaving, but he did get a carrot cake to take away.
The tearoom typically goes through about 10 of the berry cakes a day, something Mr Clarke puts down to being freshly baked each morning using locally sourced strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. The recipe remains a closely guarded secret.
Spielberg previously revealed that his first visit to Ireland was a "life-changing experience" even though it led to him dislocating his knee on a walking trip in the nearby Burren.