Food by VICE

This Bar Turned Away Prince William for Wearing the Wrong Shoes

Home of the bankers’ favourite “Flaming Ferrari” cocktail and patronized by celebrities and royalty, Chelsea’s Nam Long Le Shaker was an 80s party hub. Today, the daughter of the bar’s late owner hopes to revive some of its former hedonism.

by Josh Barrie
Sep 3 2016, 9:00pm

All illustrations by Yuliya Tsoy.

This story was originally published in MUNCHIES UK in July 2015.

The Flaming Ferrari isn't quite as famous as the cavorting celebrities who have frequented Nam Long Le Shaker, a West London restaurant and bar probably better known for the exploits of its clientele than its food.

But the cocktail is up there. A mix of green Chartreuse, Grand Marnier, dark rum, and yellow Chartreuse—with a shot of Blue Curaçao poured in as the whole thing is set alight and slurped recklessly through a straw—it reached a sort of cult status in the 90s thanks to a group of city traders.

Illustration by Yuliya Tsoy.

Nicknamed the "Flaming Ferrari Boys," the five Credit Suisse share traders—among them the son of disgraced-MP-turned-novelist Jeffrey Archer—fueled around £1 million worth of unauthorised deals with Friday night visits to the bar, downing their adopted cocktail. Despite eventually being suspended by the bank, the Boys' hedonism turned the drink a rite of passage for countless other city bankers.

After opening in affluent Chelsea in 1985, Nam Long soon became a magnet for aristocrats, pop stars, and MPs, as well as rogue traders. One of those moneyed, debauched places that only seem to have existed before social media.

The bar and restaurant's popularity also grew thanks to eccentric owner Thai Dang, a man who once turned away Prince William for wearing the wrong shoes and refused to serve Mick Jagger because the kitchen was closed. (Dang's response on hearing that The Rolling Stones wanted to visit his restaurant after a gig at Wembley Stadium was blunt, to say the least: "I don't give a fuck.")

"Nam Long has memories for me of long, silly evenings spending dubious amounts of money on stupidly named cocktails," remembers British TV presenter and food writer William Sitwell. "Having random chats with local strangers and generally having a very amusing time, and not—the following day—regretting a single pound or minute spent there."

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Another restaurant industry figure, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke of similarly outlandish evenings at Nam Long, spotting Hugh Grant at the bar on more than one occasion, apparently involved in a drunken public price war about how much he could buy the place for.

Dang passed away last year, but Nam Long's exclusivity and the splash-the-cash drinking culture it fostered had been on the wane since the 80s and subsequent financial downturns. Today, Dang's daughter, Dzuyen is charged with enticing a new generation of Flaming Ferrari-drinkers. The 29-year-old took full control of the restaurant last year, but grew up watching her father at work.

"Everything spoke about or done under the Nam Long roof was a lesson," she says. "My first week, my father allocated to me organising Stelios' [Haji-Ioannou, founder of easyJet] private party. It was a lot to take in, but why not?"

Flaming_Ferrari_moving

Unlike Nam Long's 80s heyday, West London is no longer the indisputable heart of the city's dining scene. There are the ever-multiplying cocktail bars in the east of the city to compete with, as well as the current obsession with less formal street food set-ups.

"There's a lot of life here [Nam Long], and the walls have so many stories," says Dzuyen. "It's true that London is so heavily saturated with bars and restaurants. But so many pop up and flunk after a short time."

For Dzuyen, the Flaming Ferrari Boys caused a kind of mayhem that patrons of Dalston's trendy new bars could only dream of. But then that's what Nam Long was fuelled on: being big, bold, and excitable.

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"We have a status and reputation for being loud and naughty," says Dzuyen. "It's an environment my father was always slightly reluctant to pass onto his young daughter—a true testament that times are changing."

The antics of Nam Long's clientele seem out of place in today's austerity Britain, but Dzuyen doesn't want to distance the restaurant entirely from the golden Chelsea era.

"Don't come here for a quiet night—can we talk about naughty moments in the toilets with Robbie Williams and Freddie Ljungberg?" Probably not. She continues: "Nam Long is all-consuming. I breath through it and I thrive on it."

Dzuyen's new menu has made some concessions to 2015 tastes. Dishes like siu-yuk bao (belly pork in steamed buns with pickled red cabbage and coriander) echo London's current bao bun craze, while the bass in ginger and soy and salmon ceviche aim for "classic," rather than dated.

All illustrations by Yuliya Tsoy.

"[Nam Long] is something that has stood the test of time—it remains relevant, individual in its identity," says Dzuyen. "I can see how Chelsea can have this reputation of being all about money, and I'll admit there's a scarcity of bars that don't look like airport lounges. But I think we have character."

And while there's no uprooting the Flaming Ferrari, Dzuyen has asked her bartenders to make lighter cocktails. The Jade is a vodka or gin, cucumber, and elderflower number, while Mr Thai is a tribute to her father in the form of rye whisky, truffle honey, and grapefruit.

"We're not going for the mass market" stresses Dzuyen. "Just the people who like to have fun and be somewhere that doesn't conform to the London norms. Many make the pilgrimage to Nam Long for the Flaming Ferrari, but once they get here, they see we're much more than that."

Eighties excess may be out, but Nam Long is still intent on offering more.