Whatley Manor, Easton Grey, Malmesbury, Wiltshire

As Wiltshire locals will tell you, wiping tears of mirth from their eyes, Whatley Manor was once Twatley Farm. From the mid-19th century it was expanded by successive owners, who included a clergyman and a master of the Beaufort Hunt, all apparently unbothered by their hilarious address. Drive up to it today, and it looks rather stern and grey, like a posh orphanage. Once inside the main gates, you encounter a cobbled courtyard lit by a score of garden lamps and the orange glow from leaded windows. It's very welcoming, though not terribly English – possibly because the hotel is owned by a Swiss family, whose design sense owes more to modern Geneva than Victorian Gothic.

In The Dining Room, where I had the finest meal in a year, the décor is eclectic to a schizophrenic degree – square black mirrors, Japanese screens, dangly-tassel chandeliers, 1980s-style rag-rolled walls. You could be at one of a hundred destination hotels in Europe. The food, however, is unmistakably at the top level of modern Anglo-French cooking – both dramatic and subtle, constantly surprising and teasing the palate with little treats, but always putting cleverness at the service of gorgeous flavours.

The chef is Martin Burge, who has done time at L'Ortolan, Pied a Terre and John Burton Race's kitchen at the Landmark Hotel, as well as Le Manoir. Earlier this year he picked up his second Michelin star for his work at Whatley. On the evidence of my meal, he must be heading for a third.

Where do I start? With the amuse-bouche of poached quail egg with tiny leeks and kipper spume (heaven), the shot-glass of foie gras in a red wine jelly with slender croutons (bliss) or the mouthful of breadcrumbed goat's cheese with olive tapenade washed down by lovely cold "essence" of tomato and basil the colour of Chablis (miraculous)? The young waiting staff are mostly Swiss or German, and sometimes had language difficulties (you try saying "pannacotta with sherry jelly and coconut granita" when you're from Dortmund.) One girl assured us a bonne bouche was "blackcurrant and chloroform" – sadly, it was "clove foam", a Blumenthal-ish bit of nonsense served in a glass with a straw; it was like sucking flavoured air.

My starter of roasted quail breasts (boned, rolled and glazed in sticky sweet wine) offered a cornucopia of delights: the breasts sang along with a pea purée that was like ice-cream. Ballotines of quail legs rolled in gelatine were served on sticks like ice-lollies, alongside quail eggs deep-fried but with the yolks still runny. It was like an exhibition of the concept of Quail-ness at Tate Modern. My date's pan-fried scallops were gigantic. A light jus of beef and truffle was poured over just before serving (scallops and beef?) and got on brilliantly. The mushroom purée, served with a fairground loop-the-loop of potato, was a knockout. You thought mushroom purée was boring? Not in Mr Burge's hands. If the scallops were the main event, everything else complemented them, and brought out their scallop-osity.

The main-course corn-fed poussin ("its juices liaised with Madeira" – I loved the executive-speak of "liaised" until I realised it should have been "laced") was crispy outside, tender and sweet inside, the sauce caramelly (that was the Madeira), the accompanying parmesan bonbons crunchy and creamy. My lamb loin offered two loin tranches, stunningly pink and perfect, served on soft samphire with a swoop of white wine sauce. It came with a cake of "braised chest", very fibrous and crumbly Sunday-lunch lamb; the menu didn't mention the sweetbreads (very soft and delicately cooked) or the lamb-mince samosa that came too; both were gasp-inducingly good.

You could whine that Mr Burge tends to repeat his effects through the meal, so that you can find pea purée, truffles and asparagus appearing unannounced in successive courses. But it's hard to fault the ambition, the confidence and the high style of his cooking. So much thought had clearly gone into the puddings. The chocolate mousse was a long train-set on a glass plate, the chocolate "carriages" alternating with fennel (yes, fennel) meringues. Carpaccio of peach lay under a white peach sorbet beside a parfait of white chocolate and a line of raspberries, each one dotted with coulis. It was an orgy of soft fruits in gorgeous colours and I didn't want it to end.

This was a banquet that approached everything, from shellfish to samphire, with the utmost respect, and teased out their flavours with the utmost seductiveness. With a Moulin a Vent Beaujolais from the lower end of the wine list, dinner wasn't cheap, but I wouldn't begrudge a cent to have food of this quality, nor a moment spent in the charming company of the serving staff. Mr Burge and his team go straight to the top of my list of Unmissable Restaurants, and I urge you to try them as soon as your personal economy allows.

Whatley Manor, Easton Grey, Malmesbury, Wiltshire (01666 822888)

Food 5 stars
Ambience 4 stars
Service 5 stars

About £190 for two, with wine.

Tipping policy: "A 10 per cent service charge is included in the price of all food and drink. No tips are required. All the service charge goes to the staff"

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on