It’s been an extremely busy year and my blog has suffered for it, sometimes because I’ve done more eating than I’ve had time to document. One thing is for sure: 2010 has seen less money to splurge, yet flavour has still been paramount.

Some of my high points:

dsc_0019.jpg If you want to eat out in a cosy space without blowing your budget on food or wines, La Boheme in Sea Point delivers the goods time and again. At only R95 for two courses and R115 for three, lunch or dinner is affordable and great to swap and share. Even with those friends who sink too many bottles and then suggest everybody splits the bill. Wines represent very good value for a wine bar. A la carte options are sometimes more interesting than what appears on the set menu board, but it’s a minor drawback. Tel 021 434 8797. La Boheme

Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine is high up the list of Eat Out’s top 10 for 2011, so it’s better to avoid the restaurant during high season if you expect appropriate attention. A stolen lazy lunch for four in the slower season reminded me about why I adore George Jardine’s cooking. Like the man, the food is understated and free of culinary bullshit. Yet it rarely fails to deliver a flavour and textural surprise. Jardine’s cooking base is classic but he incorporates modern country touches. Everything on a plate is a necessary flavour component while the execution shows off his maturity and experience. Tel 021 881 3612 Jardine

dsc_0004.jpg For a simple lunch out incorporating an elegant piece of history, Casa Labia Cafe in Muizenberg is hard to beat. Judy Badenhorst’s cleverly inventive cooking is a delight, and owner Antonia Labia has restored life to her grandfather’s original Italian décor in the building with absolutely magnificent results. Once you’ve had your meal in the café, take a stroll through the adjoining rooms created in the 1930s to replicate those in Venice. This is the sort of place you’ll want to wear a nice dress and take your aunties, a group of girlfriends, or enjoy a surprise romantic lunch with your loved one. Prices are nicely in the café restaurant category. Drawbacks are lack of parking along the beachfront road and a tiny wine list. Tel 021 788 6062. Labia Cafe

I’ve only eaten there a couple of times, and plans to return for an inexpensive lunch with an enthusiastic friend were scuppered twice. Never mind, chef Luke Dale Roberts says he’s swamped with upcountry visitors booking out The Test Kitchen, keen to try the flavour of the month. luke_dale-roberts-_image_by_michael_le_grange.jpg He would appreciate the business more in about March 2011… I like his new industrial Old Biscuit Mill space as it reflects his creativity and new freedom with food. From a counter seat one lunchtime chatting and eating for a magazine article profile, I saw how much fun the kitchen is having. The former La Colombe chef is talented in subtle east-meets-west fusions that incorporate delicate elements such as trout and lime with miso. Dinner is three, five or eight courses. Or a la carte elements of those menus ordered at the kitchen bar counter, which I support – you have to be in the mood for a drawn-out set menu. Tel 021 447 2337 Test Kitchen

I’m off on holiday tomorrow where I plan to stay out of restaurants and sit around braais and friends’ beachside tables instead. But on my return I look forward to trying Vanessa Quellec’s new Italian Caffe Milano and pasticceria, opening this month. I loved her pastries, puddings and cakes at The Roundhouse, so can’t wait to taste her new Italian-themed café and bakery venture with Giorgio Nava. This talented American pastry chef was sent to an old-school Italian baker in Lombardia to aquire extra skills. The Upper Kloof street pasticceria’s counters will emit tempting aromas from Quellec’s modern take on traditional Italian cakes and pastries. She’s promised breads, beautiful fruit tarts, bomboloni cream-filled doughnuts, Italian-style brioche, and specialities such as Margheritine di Stresa biscuits. Tel 021 426 5566.