When Marcus Wareing became a chef he decided that his favourite childhood pudding made by his Lancastrian grandmother Emily was worth recreating for paying diners.

Yesterday the public agreed when they named his nutmeg-rich Custard Tart as their favourite dessert, pipping the iced berries with hot white chocolate sauce served at the The Ivy and the humble Victoria Sponge at another London celebrity haunt, the Wolseley.

For Wareing, winning the Remy Martin Coeur de Cognac award for Best Dessert was the icing of the cake after his establishment, Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, retained its position as the capital's best restaurant. But he complained that too many chefs neglected puddings, leaving them to the pastry chef, whereas they were "absolutely crucial" - just as important as the starters and main course. "I've got three children and I can't say one is better than any of the others; you can't say one dish is more or less important than the others," he said.

"I think there are so many good puddings we [the British] do - treaccle tart, Eccle cake, custard tart, they're all very strong."

Originating in his native Lancashire, the custard tart had been generally under-rated because most people encountered soggy shop versions or did not blast the pastry in the oven before adding the mixture. "Mothers and grandmothers know how to line a tart but seven out of 10 people don't know how to make one without the contents leaking," he said.

His "very deep" custard tart is made freshly, every day, for his £35 three course lunch menu, with leftovers given to staff.

Two souffles, at Le Gavroche and The Ledbury, a tarte tatin at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, and maccaroons at Yauatcha were in the top 10 diners' puddings this year. Peter Harden, co-author of Harden's London Restaurants, said: "You could give all of them to a five-year-old, which might not be true the starters and the main courses. Bacon and liver ice cream and nitrogen are noticeable by their absence."

Around the country, chefs are experimenting with more adventurous dishes, such as the lemon meringue pie with sorrell ice cream served at the two Michelin-star Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham.

Head chef David Everitt-Matthias, who included a recipe for acorn tiramisu in his new book, Dessert, believes British puddings are some of the best in the world. "I think we can hold our own against the French, but may be not on the pastry side," he said.

"We beat the Spanish dead on desserts: if they don't have an ice cream or a sorbet there's not much depth to their desserts at all.

"We have been very good at bringing back traditional puddings and making them a bit lighter. There are a lot of modern chefs looking at the old things and tarting them up for their menus."

John Walsh recommends three desserts outside London

Bitter chocolate mousse at The Dining Room, Whatley Manor, Malmesbury

Beautiful, dramatic, astoundingly chic dish presented as a train: the chocolate mousse "carriages" alternate with fennel meringues while a long trail of tiny raspberry rocks makes up a delicious "cinder track." And it tastes wonderful.

Perry Jelly at Hix's Oyster and Fish House, Lyme Regis, Dorset

Mark Hix's prize-winning pudding is so pretty, an enterprising fashion-plate might consider wearing it on her wrist. It's a round circlet of jelly (like a large, fat teething ring) with lots of bracingly tart seasonal berries suspended inside. Miraculous.

Les Trois Cremes de College de Trinity at Clos de Marquis, Leckford Hutt, Hampshire

Opinions are divided about how crème brulee was invented, but Gaston Marquis, the chef-patron of this 18th century auberge is sure it was at Trinity College, Cambridge. He's used an ancient recipe from there, and offers diners three ramekins of creme (coffee, hazelnut and vanilla) which arrive together at the table in flames...