Chef of the year: Martin Burge

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Visitors to the Swiss-owned, Cotswold-stoned Whatley Manor in Wiltshire tend to wait several minutes before tucking into each course of their dinner, because the platefuls of food before them are so startlingly beautiful.

Here's a dish of huge scallops, over which a light jus of beef and truffle is poured at the table – but you're so distracted by the fairground loop-the-loop of potato, rising four inches above the plate, you don't notice. Here's chocolate mousse like you've never seen it, got up as a train puffing across a glass plate, chocolate carriages alternating with fennel meringues, with a cinder-track of raspberry grit running alongside. Every course is an array of treats, cooked with imagination, flair and a sense of humour.

Martin Burge, 37, is from Bristol, his granddad was an army chef, and cooking is in the genes. At 16, he began as commis-chef at the Royal Crescent in Bath, moved to the Mirabelle, thence to Pied a Terre and the Manoir under Raymond Blanc, and spent six years with John Burton Race at L'Ortolan, and the two-Michelin-starred Landmark Hotel.

He's been at Whatley Manor since February 2003. Its owner, Christian Landolt, encourages his star chef to press his creative accelerator to the floor, and it shows: in the prime ingredients, the produce from the kitchen garden, and in a fabulous repertoire of special effects. His dishes can have 10 component parts but he has the skill to make them into a stunning mosaic of flavours. And to serve them as objects of beauty you could hang in the Wallace Collection. As Robert Schumann said, on first hearing Chopin: "Hats off, gentlemen – a genius!"

Whatley Manor, Easton Grey, Wiltshire, 01666 822888; whatleymanor.com

Runners-up

Matthew Budden of Anise, for the match-making skill with which he introduces sturdily British ingredients to Continental and Asiatic partners.

Felbridge Hotel, London Road, East Grinstead, West Sussex, 01342 337700

Ravi Deulkar of Trishna, for re-inventing the Indian restaurant.

15-17 Blandford Street, London W1, 020-7935 5624

Jacob Kennedy of Bocca di Lupo, for bringing some new classics of Italian regional cuisine to our attention.

12 Archer St, London W1, 020-7734 2223

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