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Posted on July 20 , 2009 In Uncategorized

Lettings Renewal Fees

As most landlord’s will know, it is common practice in central London for lettings agents (Foxtons et al.) to charge renewal fees on tenants that decide to stay on after their initial contract. In the majority of cases this commission is exactly the same as the original commission and can be as high as 20% of the rent for the new contract term up front. Quite often the agents play absolutely no role in the renewal, yet enforce these charges according to the small print easily missed in your original agreement with them.

Many people, myself and the Office of Fair Trading included, felt this was an unfair practice and over the last couple of years there has been a long drawn out proceeding against Foxtons from the OFT challenging their position on this. Last week the High Court finally came to a decision on the matter and have found the practice unfair. It now seems Foxtons and other agents across the capital will be forced to reign their fees in and settle for a fairer administration charge or perhaps indeed no renewal fee at all.

This is undoubtedly good news for tenants and landlords alike. Landlords will be left with more money in their pockets without the hassle of having to cover the estate agent’s up front free. For tenants it should bring greater bargaining power as the value of their rent to the landlord increases. For estate agents this is almost certainly bad news. It’s a practice that probably shouldn’t have been around in the first place, but this will be a considerable hit to their bread and butter income.

The other question that has been raised is what happens to the past renewal fees many landlords have paid, and is this judgement retrospective – and are lanrdlords entitled to claim back the thousands they have paid in the past. The answer is not so clear but hopefully will become clearer as the dust begins to settle.

Posted on July 18 , 2009 In Uncategorized

The new iPhone 3GS

You either love it or hate it.

Regardless of the above, it’s hard to deny that the iPhone has shaken up the mobile phone market like no other before. As the owner of numerous Nokia’s including their Communicator series, I never came across a phone that worked so effortlessly to perform tasks ranging from simply making calls and and listening to music to remotely administrating your web server. Perhaps the worst thing about iPhones these days is the fact that almost everyone has one!

So what of the new iPhone 3GS, is it really worth the upgrade? Having owned each incarnation of the iPhone since it’s intial release, my answer is a resounding yes!

The 3G was a step in the right direction but at the end of the day the internet connection wasn’t that much faster (as it failed to support the faster HSDPA protocol) and the processing power was essentially the same which left it annoyingly laggy at times. Now most of the features of the 3GS can be had on the 3G simply by ugprading to the 3.0 operating system (including the much needed copy and paste) however the thing that really changes the user experience is the speed. It turns the iPhone from a phone with a few extra capabilities to a real alternative to a phone and laptop.

The 3GS almost never lags. The keyboard is responsive as you type, applications load almost instantly, Safari (the web browser) handles complex websites with ease and if you’ve got good reception they’ll load within seconds thanks to finally including HSDPA support (this is what USB 3G mobile broadband sticks use).  Furthermore the internet tethering option allows you to use the iPhone as a modem for your laptop and if you have a Mac this could not be simpler to set up!

The other features the 3GS offers are, I believe, less important. The built in compass allows maps to orientate to the direction the iPhone is held – neat but not that essential. The voice control is poor (it may be better for American accents), and is barely usable. Being able to record videos is nice but not something I use all that often.

My only gripe with the 3GS is how o2 have made it so difficult for people to upgrade. Undoubtedly the majority of people wanting this phone will be users of a previous iPhone. Despite this o2 are insisting that people in a current iPhone contract (and if you bought a 3G phone you will be) see this out before they are able to upgrade. The other option they’re offering is to buy yourself out of your contract but paying the remaining months off but the thought of paying good money for nothing makes me wince!

I came to the conclusion that by far the best way of doing it was simply to buy the phone outright on pay as you go. Ok it’s a big hit initially but you can continue to use your current contract SIM in the new phone, get some money back by selling the phone it replaces (I achieved a wopping £290 on eBay for my old 3G) and a few months down the line you’ll be free to move to a contract that offers much better value eg. o2 Simplicity at £19.58/month with unlimited web browsing.

So what are you waiting for?

www.apple.com/uk/iphone

iPhone 3GS

Posted on July 11 , 2009 In Uncategorized

Car Sharing Schemes

Anyone who regularly walks around the streets of K&C will have noticed new bays for car sharing schemes. My initial reaction to these was one of outrage – further erosion to our already limited residents parking bays, but having used them I’m coming round to the idea!

There are a few companies that offer this service now, the main three that I’ve noticed locally are Streetcar, Zipcar and CityCarClub. The idea is that you pay them an annual fee to be able to use their cars at your own convenience on an hourly or daily charge. Swipe card technology means that it really is as simple as that, you book the car of your choice, rock up, swipe your membership card across the windscreen – the car unlocks, the keys are in the glove box and you’re good to go.

Joining Streetcar is relatively straight forward. You pay your dues, they set up a conference call with the DVLA to verify your license and they subsequently send you a swipe card in the post next day. If you’re really itching to get your hands on a car and can’t wait for your card they can remotely unlock cars for you over the phone. The younger drivers out there will be glad to hear you only have to be 21 to qualify and the rental charges are fixed – the same price for everyone.

The availability of cars seems pretty good, obviously weekends are a little busier but you shouldn’t have to travel too far afield to find one that’s available. Booking ahead is of course advisable but I’ve often found you can get one as and when required which makes it even more convenient. If you get stuck in traffic (which invariably you will!) you can extend your booking very simply by texting Streetcar with “extend <hours>”. The cost of the cars range from around 4-9 pounds per hour and with Streetcar includes 30 miles of driving, fuel and any applicable congestion charge. As it turns out 30 miles is just about right for a trip to and from Ikea Croydon/Brent Cross.

So what of the cars? Streetcar have a fleet of solely VWs – mainly Golfs and some Polos and Tourans – a safe choice I guess. The cars themselves are all relatively new, reasonably clean and have aircon, four doors and a generous boot (especially with the seats down). ZipCar on the other hand have more of a selection with the Toyota Prius amongst the options – a great opportunity to see what all the fuss is about without the hassle of a test drive!

As someone who already owns two cars, it seemed a bit rediculous paying to use yet another car however as many of you will know, Smart cars aren’t the best for trips to Ikea! Perhaps you’ve got a sports car and don’t want to risk damaging the interior, or perhaps it simply doesn’t have enough space. Another option is StreetVan (unsurprisingly part of Streetcar) who offer exactly the same service (albeit with a lower annual fee) for VW transporter vans if you need that extra space. Naturally for those who don’t have a car in the borough, these car sharing schemes offer a low cost and flexible way to occasionally have use of a car.

Streetcar

Posted on May 21 , 2009 In Uncategorized

Rocca

Rocca is a relatively new addition to Old Brompton Road. It’s a place I had been meaning to visit for a while, enticed by it’s covered outdoor seating, smart presentation and very resonably priced menu, I wish I had tried it earlier!

Located at the South Kensington end of Old Brompton Road it is a welcomed and distinguished addition to the likes of Bella Italia, GBK and Burger King (recently departed). The restaurant has been cleverly designed with a set of glass doors a few meters in from the frontage leaving a covered area for three tables outside giving a Mediterranean feel. Adding to that feel the walls inside are matt terracota and laden with canvas prints of Italian country scenery. The restaurant stretches back surprisingly far, with an open kitchen at the back. Wall-attached desk lamps line the walls illuminating tables for two in a quirky style I’ve not seen before.

The menu is as already mentioned, very well priced for this area of town. £6.25 for a Funghi pizza and around the same price for one of their many pasta dishes. The menu has general appeal and in my opinion gave a better choices than Carluccio’s, not to mention the availability of pizza.

The service was friendly and efficient. The food was quite obviously freshly prepared, the pasta in very generous portions and generally quite tasty.

Lunch for two including drinks came to a very resonable £18. Service was not automatically included, which I think is enviable in a restaurant these days.

So in summary, this is a great little Italian restaurant in the centre of South Ken, outstanding value for money, great atmosphere and quality food which won’t blow you away but will almost certainly leave you feeling satisfied. It’s virtues remind me a lot of a restaurant I visited in Madrid called Ginger, if you go there check it out and let me know what you think.

Rocca
73 Old Brompton Road
South Kensington
SW7 3JS
Tel: 0207 2253413
www.roccarestaurants.com

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Posted on May 18 , 2009 In Uncategorized

Lots Road Pub

There are plenty of reasons to go to Lots Road and I think I’ve just found another!

A few weekends ago when I was checking out the weekend auction we took a stroll down to the eerily quiet Chelsea Design Centre and harbour and spoted the self titled pub on the corner at the end of the road.  Having been recently refurbished with a favourable few words from TimeOut postered up in the window I put it down on my to-try list.

Well today I finally got round to it, and I’ve got to say it was worth it!

The pub is average in size, but not overly cramped with neutral decor and very high ceilings. Mirrored by the outside of the building curved around a corner, the bar is a semicircle and equipped with the usual suspects.  There’s extra seating around the back for diners, and this pub obviously takes their food seriously.

We were there for a late Sunday roast. Between the six of us we ordered the beef, pork and chicken (which is ordered as a whole to share between 2). Despite it being later on in the day which is usually a recipie for disaster when it comes to pub roasts, the food was surprisingly good. Fresh, tasty and in resonable quantities, exactly what Sunday roasts are all about! The service was friendly and efficient, the best I’ve come across in a while. We even went on to order deserts which were equally satisfying. Prices were average for the area, with the chicken for two at £25, beef roast at £12.50 and deserts at £5, but unlike many before I didn’t leave feeling short changed.

All in all, a great little pub and one to put near the top of the list in the future!

Lots Road Pub and Dining Room
114 Lots Road
Chelsea SW10 0RJ
Tel: 0207 3526645

http://www.lotsroadpub.com/

On a map

Posted on May 9 , 2009 In Uncategorized

Westfield

Westfield opened it’s doors in October 2008 and claims to be Europe’s largest shopping centre, so are we privileged to have it on our doorstep? A work in progress for several years, Westfield is indeed vast. Covering 43 acres with over 265 shops, 4500 parking spaces and a handful of restaurants it has its appeal.

Naturally as someone who likes to buy the odd thing or two I was excited at the prospect of this place, so much so I even went to the opening ceremony fresh from a 13 hour night shift in A&E! The place was a little less polished than it is now but you could see the potential.  Leona Lewis and Boris Johnson lead the celebrations, talking much of the regeneration it has brought and will bring the area. Being in White City I deemed the increased traffic and exterior ugliness too far away to have any negative effect on the area we live in.

Supposedly catering for all ends of the market, it famously has a Prada store along with some other high end boutiques in “The Village”. To be honest I’m not sure if it works… If I regularly bought this kind of stuff from the horses mouth (which I don’t), I’d much rather go to Sloane or Bond Street and at least get the glamour of the occasion.

Having been to Westfield several times over the last few months I can’t say I’m a massive fan. Once you enter the doors from the car park it’s like you’ve been transported to Milton Keynes. You’re surrounded by people who look different and by buggies and push chairs with screaming children. The selection of shops is resonable but nothing more than High Street Kensington, Kings Road and Knightsbridge have to offer. If you go at peak times you’ll be looking at queues a mile long to eat at Nando’s or PizzaExpress which is almost unheard of a few minutes down the road and quite frankly insulting!

So what are it’s saving graces? Well for starters it has an Apple store which offers a fantastic alternative to the tourist filled Regent Street branch. The car park works well with green lights for each available space, and seem to have enough capacity. They’ve recently started offering 2 hours of free parking (a sign of tough times?) which beats the 2 pounds per hour they were initially charging. I hear they have a cinema on the way which will be an intersting prospect, although I’m pretty happy with Vue at Fulham Broadway.

So in summary, well worth checking out and I can guarantee you I’ll be going back, but don’t go there to eat unless you want to queue. I’ll be keeping most of my spending on the high street and I suggest you do too!

Westfield
White City
London
W12 7GF

Posted on May 9 , 2009 In Uncategorized

Bowler Bar & Grill

Unfortunately Bowler Bar & Grill closed its doors in mid June 2009 as their lease had come to an end. They continue to run their butchers on Marylebone High Street and I wish them the best of luck with future ventures. Bowler will be missed!

Tucked away on Pond Place just off Fulham Road (South Ken end), Bowler Bar & Grill is a fantastic find!

Their speciality is of course steak although they also cater for vegetarians (and thank god) having dragged my girlfriend Kaori along on several occasions! As with any restaurant, the key to good food is good ingredients and Bowler are lucky enough to have their own up-market butchers, The Natural Kitchen on Marylebone High Street.

Easily missed with its discrete entrance at the bottom of a flight of stairs the restaurant is surprisingly spacious and beautifully kitted out with quirky antique chairs and the occasional bowler hat. The atmosphere is informal and inviting unlike so many of the pretentious yet surprisingly plain restaurants I’ve been to. They’ve been generous with space in the layout of the tables and consequently it’s a great place to relax with friends without having to cross conversations.

I’ve never tried their alcoholic drinks although their bar looks rather impressive and I hear they pride themselves on their cocktails.

So on to the food. I absolutely love my steak but being the fastidious eater I am, can’t stand the sight of fat. I therefore always have the filet steak, which as it happens is an excellent choice here. We usually book on the toptable offer which means half price mains if you order a starter bringing a borderline greedy 400g filet down from £36 to fabulous £18. I’d recommend the brandy based peppercorn sauce to go with and perhaps a side of roasted honey glazed parsips and carrots. The steak is served with a few a sprinkling of hand cut chips and a couple of roasted baby tomatoes – a nice touch. Needless to say, the steak is consistently superb and usually cooked spot-on (medium rare). I’ve been to Goucho and Morton’s and this is, in my opinion, better.

Working backwards their starters are excellent and generously proportioned (so don’t fill yourself up!). The two soups I’ve had were delicious and fresh. The bread is a good choice too. I used to go for pan fried mushrooms on toast but that has since been reomved from the menu.
The staff are welcoming, friendly and efficient without getting in your face. They always encourage you to fill out a survey form after your meal so they obviously take customer service seriously – and it shows.

So in summary one of the finest steak restaurants I’ve been to and a well hidden secret although becoming increasingly popular. Tremendous value for money on a toptable offer but I’d still be coming here without it. If you’re on a budget try the £10 burger which is as good as any locally.

Bowler Bar & Grill
2A Pond Place
Chelsea
London SW3 6QJ
Tel: 0207 5895876
www.bowlerbarandgrill.co.uk

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Bowler Bar & Grill

Posted on May 8 , 2009 In Uncategorized

Churchill Arms Thai

This place is one of my all time favourites.. indeed I’ve been going here on an almost weekly basis since I was first introduced three ago..

A Thai restaurant integrated to the award winning Churchill Arms pub on Kensington Church Street (half way between HSK and Notting Hill Gate). The restaurant area at the back of the pub is a pleasant and less crowded environment than the pub with around 15 marble tables surrounded by framed butterflies, hanging baskets from the ceiling and a few water features giving it a nice garden feel. They serve a wide range of Thai dishes that despite their recent 50p price increase and incredibly well priced at £6.50 per main (incl rice/noodles). The food is tasty, simple, fresh and the portions are very generous. The consistency good and I should know, I almost always get one of two dishes – Pad Khing or Khao Pad with chicken. They also offer dishes with beef, pork, prawns and tofu and are vegetarian friendly.  The delivery is snappy, even at peak times, and they offer take-away although I find this takes the edge off their otherwise fresh food. The staff are efficient and friendly and don’t have the pretence of a “posh” restaurant.

As you can probably imagine, this place is incredibly popular, especially in these credit crunching times. Consequently it’s nearly impossible to get an evening booking on the same day unless you’re prepared to wait around or want to chance getting a table in the pub area. Sitting times at peak periods are limited to one hour as they’ll almost always tell you on your way in but to be honest this is the perfect place to go before for a quick meal before heading on to the pub. If you can make it outside of peak times (before 6:30 or early lunch) you should be able to walk in and get a table straight away..

So in summary, if you like Thai cuisine and you want something straight forward, tasty and great value for money you’ll find it hard to do any better than the Churchill Arms, just make sure you book in advance!

The Churchill Arms
119 Kensington Church St
Kensington
London W8 7LN
Tel: 0207 7274242
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