Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Battle Over London Tipping

I've always found tipping to be an odd business. The Wife tends to tip everyone 15 percent, no matter what. A couple of friends tip everyone a dollar, no matter what. Some people just hate the idea of tipping and don't do it at all on general principals. I have always been against forced tipping, which is standard practice at very expensive restaurants where they are charging far too much for food anyway. But then, this is usually only done with large groups.

In London tipping it a bit different-tipping has often been covered with a service charge.

Diners at Le Pont de la Tour, Quaglino's and 18 other restaurants established by the designer Terence Conran will be presented with a bill making clear that a service charge is not included and leaving a blank space for any tips.

The move to discretionary tipping – cash that would be shared by the staff – represents the latest attempt by restaurateurs to win back diners who have deserted them in the recession. Top London restaurants have already slashed mark-ups on fine wines and hundreds of establishments are offering "two-for-one" meals or 50% off.

D&D London, which co-owns the chain with Conran Holdings, has good reason to act. It saw its profits fall by a fifth last year to £6.5m.

I like tipping, as it is one of the few chances I have in life to be a big shot and show some generosity of spirit at the same time. But I know that not everyone tips well, and I have never been a huge tipper myself. My brother always likes to do a bit of math and say there X number of people here and if we all tip Y than that's a good day's wages.

There is something to that kind of logic. Surely no restaurant would voluntarily pay their waitstaff what they make in tips on a good night? There are so many flavors of restaurants out there that it is impossible to make a definitive answer as to what a good tip should be.

I have always been in favor of the idea of a living wage-plus tips. That way there will still be some incentive to give good service, but the waitstaff doesn't miss a car payment if they have a bad week. It seems that 15% is the standard in the US, but people unused to voluntary tipping in London might lowball that number and tip more along the lines of 8%.

A standard argument against any plans to change the tipping system, as no one likes any kind of change whatsoever, is that if they don't like the system as it is-they can go get a job doing something else. Or at the very least, try to get a job at a better restaurant where the tips would be substantially better on expensive meals than on cheap meals. Or so I might assume, as I say, I don't really know.

Times are hard all over, maybe doing away with tipping altogether would be a good idea.

Read more about Tipping in The London Evening Standard. For a few London thoughts against tipping, see Citywire.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The London Pass Top Ten London Attractions

Top 10 Attractions

The Tower of London
The Tower of London
The ancient stones reverberate with dark secrets, priceless jewels glint in fortified vaults and pampered ravens strut the grounds. The Tower of London is one of the world's most famous fortresses and has seen service as royal palace, prison, armoury and even zoo! It is still home to the Crown Jewels and Beefeaters.

To celebrate the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII's accession to the Throne, a stunning exhibition of the famous monarch's personal arms and armour ever shown in the UK is included in your admission to the Tower. Henry VIII: Dressed to Kill includes original artefacts never previously displayed in the UK and is included in admission until 17 January 2010.
Normal Entry Price: Adult: £17.00
Normal Entry Price: Child: £9.50

Thames River Boat Cruise
Thames River Boat Cruise
A Thames river cruise is without doubt one of the best ways to see London, weaving through the heart of the city and past so many of its most famous attractions. See and experience the sights and splendour of this great city from the relaxed comfort of a City Cruises modern, all-weather boats with open upper decks and spacious lower saloons with panoramic windows.
Normal Entry Price: Adult: £11.50
Normal Entry Price: Child: £5.75

St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul?s Cathedral
Come and experience the majesty and glory of St. Paul's Cathedral, it's iconic dome dominates the London skyline. Built between 1675 and 1710, St Paul's Cathedral is widely considered to be crowning achievement of the glittering career of Sir Christopher Wren.

The Whispering Gallery at this London cathedral is famous for its acoustics and is 30 metres above the cathedral floor, while below, in the elegant and spacious crypt, are the tombs and memorials of such historical luminaries as Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke Of Wellington
Normal Entry Price: Adult: £11.00
Normal Entry Price: Child: £3.50

Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle
A must see for London visitors, Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world and official residence her majesty the Queen. The magnificent State Apartments are lavishly furnished with treasures from the Royal Collection, including masterpieces by Rubens, Holbein, Brueghel and Van Dyck. You can get there from London Paddington in around 30 minutes
Normal Entry Price: Adult: £15.50
Normal Entry Price: Child: £9.00

Tower Bridge Exhibition
Tower Bridge Exhibition
One the most impressive structures and sites in the capital, Tower Bridge in London has stood over the River Thames since 1894 and is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world.

Learn about the history of the Bridge and how it was built. Interactive displays and videos provide an entertaining and informative guide to Tower Bridge in London and its place in the history of the River Thames.
Normal Entry Price: Adult: £7.00
Normal Entry Price: Child: £3.00

Kensington Palace and The Orangery
Kensington Palace and The Orangery
Generations of royal women have shaped this stylish palace and elegant gardens from Queen Mary to Victoria and, more recently Diana, Princess of Wales.

Today a unique collection of dresses worn by Princess Diana, including some never before displayed at Kensington Palace are shown in Diana Fashion and Style, an exhibition that charts the early days from the 1983 silk evening dress by Donald Campbell to the full blown style icon, demonstrated by the sleek black Gianni Versace cocktail dress, worn in 1995.
Normal Entry Price: Adult: £12.50
Normal Entry Price: Child: £6.25

Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace
The flamboyant Henry VIII is most associated with this majestic palace, which he extended and developed after acquiring it in the 1520s. Its many royal occupants have ensured the palace has fabulous furnishings, tapestries and paintings. It is set in 60 acres of formal gardens, which include the famous maze and the Great Vine.
Normal Entry Price: Adult: £14.00
Normal Entry Price: Child: £7.00

London Bridge Experience and The London Tombs
London Bridge Experience and The London Tombs
The London Bridge Experience is a two-part tourist attraction situated within the arches of London Bridge.

Firstly enjoy a fascinating trip back in time as the London Bridge Experience delves through the history of the bridge, from Druids through to Victorians, meeting Vikings, Romans, and some creepy medieval characters along the way. Featuring real life actors, stunning special effects and animations, this is unique interactive adventure really does takes you back in time.
Normal Entry Price: Adult: £21.95
Normal Entry Price: Child: £16.95

Churchill Museum & Cabinet War Rooms
Churchill Museum & Cabinet War Rooms
The Churchill Museum & Cabinet War Rooms are dedicated to the life of the ?greatest Briton', Sir Winston Churchill, and the secret underground headquarters that were the nerve centre of Britain's war effort.

The first London museum of its kind, the Churchill Museum covers all ninety years of Winston Churchill's life, divided into five chapters: his early year's as British Prime Minister starting May 1940; his later years; his childhood; his early political career and the period famously known as the ‘Gathering Storm’.
Normal Entry Price: Adult: £12.95

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre Tour and Exhibition
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre Tour and Exhibition
London sightseeing visitors can enjoy a trip back in time with a visit to the spectacular Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Situated on London's Bankside, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre reconstruction the original building that housed Shakespeare's theatre in London, an open-air playhouse where the playwright penned many of his greatest plays.
Normal Entry Price: Adult: £10.50
Normal Entry Price: Child: £6.50

Would you like to Save Money While Visiting London? Check out the London Pass

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Best Barbecue in London

To a native Texan the idea of the Best Barbecue in London is sort of like looking for the best Pub in Dallas-you might find one, but even the best might not be that great. But the world is smaller than it once was, and London welcomes all kinds of diverse people and foods. So why not The Best BBQ in London?

Rather than do the actual research of wandering around London and eating bbq myself, I decided to just take the Top Ten according to Google. If they care enough to get top rank in Google, they must be good at something.

All the Barbecue Places in London look good to me, but then, I never met a plate of barbecue I didn't like. As always, these London thoughts are a means of narrowing down the vast and impenetrable city of London to places I'd like to go-or in this case, eat.

Top Ten Barbecue Restaurants in London-

10. The Vibe Bar finds itself at number ten. When you click on the Food tab, it tells you they have some tasty Jerk Chicken and BBQ Grills. One of Brick Lane's finest and most interesting destinations, The Vibe Bar packs in a trendy indie crowd of musicians and fashionistas keen to enjoy cheap drinks and pounding hip hop and house music. Maybe the food is not why you go to The Vibe Bar-but I'm sticking with my Google plan.

9. The Chicago Rib Shack-Now this sounds more like what I had in mind. Ribs and Brisket and Whole Piglets and Steaks and even stuff for that poor vegetarian you dragged along. These are people that set out to create London's Best Barbecue place and judging from the website-they may have done it. Seems some people think it's not as good as the original, but then, what in life ever is?

8. Big Easy-The best Cajun restaurant in London? Could be.
Over 15 years ago, Paul Corrett, our founder, opened Big Easy’s doors in London. And right from the beginning, it’s been the food, family, friends and music that have exhilarated guests and kept them coming year after year. BBQ Ribs and Chicken seems to be the barbecue of choice at Big Easy-with an all you can eat Barbecue Pig Gig every Monday. Looks like my kind of place.

7. The Ship-The Ship has been supplying fine ales, wines and food to its surrounding residents since 1786 when it was founded as a Thameside Waterman’s Inn. The BBQ Menu has burgers, pork belly, and steaks. There's also the intriguing sounding Smoked Bacon and Red Onion Marmalade Sandwich. Crispy pig tails and ears with Aioli sounds just odd enough to whet my appetite. The Ship in Wandsworth has a beautiful outdoor dinning area, making it one of the best places in London to spend an afternoon.

6. Goodman Restaurant-This is a steak house, with such standbys as Irish Black Angus, UK Grass Fed, USDA Beef 120 Days Grain Fed, and Australian Grass Fed-these are some top quality steaks. Goodman might be the Best New York Steakhouse in London. Or maybe that should be the best Moscow Steakhouse in London. In either case, this seems to be the best steak to be had in London.

5. Cargo-Seems to be club that serves food, not that there's anything wrong with that. The menu has a few grilled items and the usual suspects of a free range jerk chicken sandwich. A couple of burritos mingle freely with the pasta dishes-nothing seems out of place here. Seems they have a barbecue in the beer garden. I'm sure Cargo is far too hip for the likes of me, but then, I never was all that trendy.

4. Bodean's BBQ-
Back in 2002 Andre Blais had a dream - to bring the taste, the style, the soul of his beloved Kansas City barbecue to London town. Now this is what I had in mind-great KC BBQ in London. I wonder if I could get a work permit and work at Bodean's BBQ? I always wanted to be a Pit Boss when I grew up. Bodean's menu is straight out of any barbecue joint in America-burgers and hot dogs, ribs and pulled pork, and even burnt ends. Things like cole slaw, fries, corn bread, and BBQ beans round out that whole real barbecue feeling. The Best Ribs This Side of The Atlantic-so says Time Out.

3. City Inn-Barbecue seems means grilling to a lot of people in London, so I am guessing that the City Inn has a grill somewhere where they heat up some veg and cook the odd burger. But my idea of BBQ is Bodean's.

2. The Rising Sun, Epsom-Also has a grill where they do a nice barbecue, though I didn't much info on it. Maybe Google isn't always right after all.

1. Best Mangal-I have to admit that I like a bit of Turkish BBQ now and then as well. Mangal is the Turkish term for an open charcoal fire for cooking food on (a kind of brazier), and little brother to the ocakbasi, which is a long trough full of glowing coals with an extraction canopy overhead. The menu is long and filled with the usual suspects of a Turkish restaurant. Kabobs and hummus and salads and meats of all kinds on sticks.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Garrison Girls Calendar

Garrison girls are TRI- SERVICE wives and families, all ranks and units together. The idea of Garrison girls first saw the light of day in spring 2008. The driving force behind the Garrison girls is Sarah Bennett Thurston whose husband, like so many others, has served in many of the world's trouble spots. Sarah wanted to raise money for two charities: Combat Stress and Help For Heroes . Her idea was for wives of all ranks and all units from the three services to pose nude for a professional fund raising calendar. -Garrison Girls

The fine art nude calendar as a fundraiser has been pretty popular the past few years. The Garrison Girls calendar is made up of art prints that might be suitible as office artwork. Saves a trip to the art gallery if you have the art poster right there on the calendar. Many of the images are lovely and have a painting like feeling to them.

And at just £10.00 the Garrison Girls calendar is pretty cheap artwork. They can also be viewed as motivational prints-shows that you support the troops and like that. I like the soft focus and smooth lines of the photography. I have always been a fan of black and white-and a bit of nudity now and then. You can find all kinds of art online-art prints, canvas prints, fine art prints of one sort or anther-but The Garrison Girls are for a worthy cause. The main focus is to raise money and awareness for Combat stress and Help for Heroes.

The Garrison Girls also have a number of other items for sale, such as mugs, t-shirts, wristbands, and fridge magnets. But if you want the fine art nude photos, you'll need to buy the Garrison Girls Calendar.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

London's Top Ten Fun Museums

London is full of museums, some famous and on everyone's must see list, some not so well known but still a bit of fun to stop by for a visit. I tend to like all London attractions, even the ones that may not fit on a tight schedule of things to see in a week. My London travels my London travels have not taken me to the small and out of the way museums, but now that I have the major sites out of the way, maybe I can work in a few of the these little gems.

London's Top Ten Fun Museums

Cartoon Museum
Cartoon Museum
This highly entertaining London tourist attraction covers the history and development of British cartoons from the 18th Century to the present day. The Cartoon Museum is dedicated to preserving the best of British cartoons, caricatures, comics and animation, and to establishing a museum with a gallery, archives and innovative exhibitions to make the creativity of cartoon art past and present, accessible to all for the purposes of education, research and enjoyment
Usually: Adult £4.00

Firepower Royal Artillery Museum
Firepower Royal Artillery Museum
Firepower, the Royal Artillery Museum in Woolwich tells the powerful and dramatic story of artillery, scientific discoveries made through warfare and human stories of courage and endeavour. The ‘ground shaking' Field of Fire audio-visual show puts you in the midst of battle as shells whiz overhead and guns roar.This engaging weapons museum shows every gun up close and details in which conflicts it was used in and with which ammunition. You can also watch videos demonstrating the pieces in use and see how each works. It's a fascinating London attraction that looks at how military personnel use armoury today - even in peacekeeping missions.
Usually: Adult £5.00
Usually: Child £2.50

Florence Nightingale Museum
Florence Nightingale Museum
From Florence’s slate she used as a child, her pet owl Athena, to the Turkish lantern used in the Crimean War, the collection spans the life of Florence Nightingale, the Crimean War and Florence’s nursing legacy up to the present day.As one of the most famous women in British history it is not surprising that Florence Nightingale should have a museum dedicated to her memory. The Florence Nightingale Museum celebrates the woman who almost single-handedly created the modern nursing profession in Britain following her experiences during the Crimean War.
Usually: Adult £5.80
Usually: Child £4.80

Guards Museum
Guards Museum
If you're in London on the 24th of September then don't miss the opportunity to attend a unique London event. The Coldstream Guards Band (who have just signed a £1million pound record deal!) will be putting on a concert at the Guards Chapel to raise money for this unique museum. The concert will be held on Thursday 24th September at 19.00 and tickets cost just £10 for London Pass holders (normal price £15) - saving you £5 per ticket! The price also includes a complimentary glass of wine before the concert starts. It is sure to be a great event and a great way to help support a fantastic cause! The London Guards Museum is a fascinating insight into the history of the military in the capital and is unique among London museums as it was not originally intended for public view.
Usually: Adult £3.00

Handel House Museum
Handel House Museum
The Handel House Museum was home to the baroque composer George Frideric Handel from 1723 until his death in 1759. This landmark address is where Handel composed some of the greatest music in history including Messiah, Zadok the Priest and Music for the Royal Fireworks, and died on 14 April 1759. One of the many specialist London museums, Handel House Museum celebrates Handel's life and works, as well as his contemporaries in what many consider the golden age of classical music. The beautifully restored interiors give a sense of what life must have been like for this hugely influential composer at the peak of his power.
Usually: Adult £5.00
Usually: Child £2.00

Household Cavalry Museum
Household Cavalry Museum
The Household Cavalry Museum is a living museum about real people doing a real job in a real place. The Household Cavalry Museum is unlike any other military museum because it offers a unique 'behind-the-scenes' look at the work that goes into the ceremonial duties and operational role of The Household Cavalry. From a glazed screen inside the Museum, visitors can view into the working stables of The Queen's Life Guard.
Usually: Adult £6.00
Usually: Child £4.00

London Canal Museum
London Canal Museum
At the London Canal Museum you can see inside a narrowboat cabin, learn about the history of London's canals, about the cargoes carried, the people who lived and worked on the waterways, and the horses that pulled their boats.During your London sightseeing visit you can see inside a narrowboat cabin, learn about the people who lived and worked on the waterways and the horses that pulled their boats. This is the only London museum of inland waterways and one of the best canal museums in the UK.
Usually: Adult £3.00
Usually: Child £1.50

Twickenham World Rugby Museum & Stadium Tours
Twickenham World Rugby Museum & Stadium Tours
The World Rugby Museum is the ultimate visitor experience for the world rugby enthusiast. Twickenham is the home of England rugby and also the World Rugby Museum - home to the finest collection of rugby memorabilia in the world. The Museum opened in 1996 and takes visitors through the history of the sport from its origins to the present day.
Usually: Adult £14.00
Usually: Child £8.00

Pollock's Toy Museum
Pollocks Toy Museum takes its name from Benjamin Pollock, the last of the Victorian Toy Theatre printers. Set up by Marguerite Fawdry who bought up the stock of Benjamin Pollock Ltd., after trying to buy one small item for her son’s toy theatre. Originally at Monmouth Street, near Covent Garden, the present museum has been at Scala Street since 1969. Nearly every kind of toy imaginable turns up here from all over the world and from all different time perods.
Usually: Adult £5.00
Usually: Child £2.00

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum
Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, London visitors to the Wimbledon museum can experience the atmosphere in the 1980's Gentleman's Dressing Room and watch John McEnroe guide you through normally off-limits areas and reminisce about how he first met Jimmy Connors and how he prepared himself for matches. The museum is open throughout the year, daily: 10.00am - 5pm. Last admission is 4.30pm.
Usually: Adult £10.00
Usually: Child £5.50

London Tourist Information - How to Save Money on London Attractions

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Kensington Palace and Queen Victoria's Bloomers

The underwear — which has a 56-inch (142-centimeter) waist — has been added to Britain's Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection at Kensington Palace. The undergarments have a matching chemise, are embroidered with a "VR" and are believed to date from the 1890s.

The Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection is one of the must sees at Kensington Palace. Though I am not really sure that the Queen's underwear falls exactly under the heading of Ceremonial Dress.

The collection purchased the bloomers for 600 pounds ($993) earlier this summer. It's likely they were handed down to a servant after the monarch's death.

There are about 12,000 items in the collection-including photographs, prints, sketches, diaries — and famous outfits. A 12 million pound ($19.8 million) project, to be completed by 2012, is intended to allow more of the collection, including the underwear, to be displayed at Kensington Palace.

Kensinton Palace has a lot of history as well as a lot of clothes.

1605 Completion of the first house on the site of Kensington Palace. It was built for Sir Walter Cope, a businessman and politician

July 1689 William III and Mary II bought Nottingham House from the Earl of Nottingham for £20,000. This house would be transformed into Kensington Palace

8 March 1702 William III dies at Kensington Palace following a riding accident at Hampton Court

February 1722 The artist, William Kent submits his estimate for the decoration of George I’s new set of state rooms. He gazumped the King’s Serjeant Painter, Sir James Thornhill and won the contract.

Summer 1734 A delegation of Cherokee Indians visit George II and Queen Caroline.

24 May 1819 Queen Victoria born at Kensington Palace

20 June 1837 Queen Victoria receives the news from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chamberlain that her uncle William IV had died and she was now queen.

24 May 1899 The state apartments at Kensington Palace opened to the public for the first time

October 1940 Incendiary bombs damage the Queen’s apartments at Kensington Palace

7 September 1997 The funeral cortege of Diana, Princess of Wales leaves Kensington Palace for her funeral at Westminster Abbey.

London Tourist Information - How to Save Money on London Attractions

Monday, September 7, 2009

London Barge Living

With its well presented accommodation, substantial upper deck and scenic canal side views, this 55' steel hulled, two berth barge, offers both a peaceful and unique living environment .

And it only cost £140,000-which for London is not too bad a price, is it? Of course, there are numerous fees of one sort or another that go along with a narrow boating lifestyle. Some of the estimates I have seen say that you could live on a barge with a £14,000 annual income-so long as barge expenses don't go up too much.

I was watching Last Comic Standing last year, and one of the finalist was a Londoner who lived on a barge. This was a wonderfully odd idea to me. I live in a fairly dry part of the world and have not seen too many barges in my day. There was a travel show that was called Barging Through Europe, so the idea of travel by barge was not new to me. But living on a barge? That seems a tad odd though. There is something kind of romantic about the idea, if not the actuality.

One of the more unusual spots in London is the remarkable Garden Barge Square where a community of barge owners live right next to Tower Bridge. These historic moorings date back 200 years or more. Gardens have been created on the decks of many of the barges to form a kind of floating garden square. As with the rest of London, the Thames can be cold, damp and grey in winter-and the cabins are cramped.

Much more modern visions of barges were recently on display in a show called Barge — breathing new life into Docklands. Many of these barge designs are ultra modern and sort of hip-in a sci fi kind approach to barge design. They mostly remind me of the kind of free formed watercraft that have been popular around the San Francisco Bay area for the last fifty years or so. These barges would stayed where they are put, as they could never make it through the narrow passages that a standard issue canal barge has to navigate.

As with all my London thoughts, living on a barge would require my winning a lotto and landing a job with the BBC. But I do like the idea of living on the water. The brisk air would be good for a Voice Over artist, wouldn't it? It might inspire a writer as well. And I'm sure it would just a tube ride away from a discount portrait studio-where I would surely have my only real job. I wonder if a discount portrait photographer in London makes £14,000 a year?