There was something about my waitress at Nam Long that reminded me of one of the journalists covering the War in Iraq, but at first I couldn't think who. Was it Rageh Omaar, the BBC's unflappable Baghdad correspondent? Or was it John Pilger, the Daily Mirror's left-wing firebrand who's always ready to pour scorn on capitalist running dogs? Then it hit me. She had the battle-hardened demeanour of Peter Bergin, CNN's "terrorism expert" who once interviewed Osama bin Laden.
Nam Long is a Vietnamese restaurant that witnesses scenes of such carnage on Friday nights it makes downtown Baghdad look like...well, I was going to say Knightsbridge, but then Nam Long is in Knightsbridge. For some reason, the combination of its French colonial interior and lethal, man-sized cocktails brings out the worst in the local Sloane Ranger population. They don't behave like Hooray Henreys so much as Hoolay Henlies, the infamous group of ex-public schoolboys who used to terrorise the residents of Hong Kong before the changeover. If Chris Patten stepped in here, I imagine he'd be stuffed into a giant blender and turned into a "Flaming Ferrari".
While it may be true that one martini is too few and three is too many, just one sip of Nam Long's world famous blue concoction will put you under the table. A combination of dark rum, Grand Marnier and green chartreuse, a "Flaming Ferrari" is like one of those drinks you mix up from the dregs of your parents' drinks cabinet. It gave its name to the group of ne'er-do-well City traders led by James Archer, Lord Archer's son, who was fired from Credit Suisse First Boston three years ago. The Archers may not be held in very high regard by the rest of the country, but woe betide the journalist who says anything bad about them in Nam Long. When I was there last week, a drunken Hooray-type at a nearby table overheard me asking the owner about the son and staggered over to put the record straight. "I don't care what the media say about him," he snarled, jabbing me in the chest with his index finger, "he's a fing good bloke."
Nam Long was originally located in Frith Street and when it opened, in 1986, could claim to be London's first genuine Vietnamese restaurant. It moved to the Old Brompton Road in 1987 and changed its name to Nam Long--Le Shaker, a reference to the fact that it now boasted a cocktail bar as well as a restaurant. It was quickly discovered by the well-heeled residents of Fulham and Chelsea and established a reputation as London's premier "result restaurant". Among this crowd it's an immutable law of nature that if you take a well-brought up young lady to Nam Long on your first date she's guaranteed to "bonk for Britain" at the end of the evening. Of course, you have to be prepared to "throw money at the problem". A "Flaming Ferrari" will set you back £13, but short of whisking her off to your pile in Shropshire for the weekend, nothing is more likely to put her in the mood.
It's a good idea to get the first kiss out of the way before the food arrives. Most of the "authentic" Vietnamese dishes on the menu contain enough garlic to ward off an entire cellar full of vampires. I had some chicken satay, followed by some beef in black bean sauce, that was perfectly adequate, but I couldn't help feeling that the kitchen is used to serving people who've had several Caipirinias before the food touches their lips.
If you're looking for a top-notch, South East Asian culinary experience, Nam Long isn't the restaurant for you. But if you fancy yourself a bit of an urban anthropologist, grab a copy of The Sloane Ranger Handbook* and come on down.