Jonathan Ray hits the culinary jackpot in Nevada’s capital of good times
The Virgin flight to Las Vegas was heaving. Not a seat to be had. It was raucous too, and I was almost the only one travelling alone. Everyone else was either in a lovey-dovey couple or a rowdy group, and most were pretty blotto. Indeed, we hadn’t even passed over Ireland before the purser admonished us about our drinking.
‘Please be moderate with the vino, ladies and gents,’ he said over the din. ‘There have been several instances lately of passengers arriving too drunk for immigration. Do take it easy.’
It was the first of many such announcements, not that anybody took the blindest bit of notice. They were either too busy doing exactly what he was asking them not to do, or were glued to The Hangover, the stag party comedy set in Vegas which hardly promotes the joys of teetotalism. Several birthdays and marriages were also announced over the Tannoy, which wasn’t exactly conducive to alcoholic restraint. It was the Mexican wave, though, that finally got the drinks trolley withdrawn.
But 11 hours in the air took its toll and it was a liverish and subdued group that shuffled to immigration and stood sweating in the queue. Everyone got through as far as I could see, although one officer gave a mock wince at the whiff of stale alcohol.
I was staying at the Encore, one of the many swanky hotels on ‘the Strip’, and joined another enormous queue to check in. My fellow guests comprised mainly lithe young Europeans on hen or stag parties or elderly botoxed Americans in voluminous shorts. In the land of the obese the merely tubby is king, and I’ve never felt as slim as I did in Las Vegas.
My neighbour on the plane was concerned to hear that I was in town alone. ‘Nobody, but nobody goes to Vegas on their own,’ he kept repeating, making me feel really good about myself. Stacey at check-in — ‘Well, hi, how are you today?!’ — couldn’t understand it either and looked very disapproving when I told her the room was for one rather than two. ‘Oh…’
I started my solo long weekend by joining yet another queue, this time to get tickets for O, one of the many Cirque de Soleil shows in town. So far I’d spent around three hours of my short time in Vegas queuing and I was now tired and grumpy.
I headed for a pre-show supper — ‘Table for two, sir?’ — at Picasso, the Michelin two-star restaurant in the Bellagio Hotel. I sat outside on the terrace and then it hit me: I was in Vegas! A great expanse of water stretched in front of me beyond which stood the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. Floodlit fountains danced to muzak as bystanders oohed and aahed. Beyond the Eiffel Tower was the Doge’s Palace, complete with Rialto Bridge, Campanile and gondoliers, while further down the Strip were the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Great Pyramid and Sphinx.
It was all gloriously kitsch and utterly bonkers and I loved it. I loved O too and spent much of the show with my jaw on my lap watching the stage flood with water and then empty as divers and acrobats cavorted about to music. It was stunning.
Most folk come to Vegas for the gambling, the girls or the shows. I was here, though, primarily for the food and wine and I ate and drank like a king. There are 16 Michelin-starred restaurants within a few hundred yards of each other, sharing 21 stars, and there are more master sommeliers here than anywhere else.
Nowhere gets through more bottles of Dom Pérignon or Cristal (both real and fake) than Vegas, and nowhere else, as far as I know, has a bar with an uninterrupted flight of Château d’Yquem from 1855 to 1990 as well as a bottle of 1800 Madeira that once belonged to Thomas Jefferson. And I’ve never seen such wide and varied wine lists — the Bellagio is the single largest buyer of wine in the world.
I browsed and sluiced my way joyously around town, in Sushisamba (Japanese/Peruvian), Dos Caminos (Mexican), Alex at Wynn, Nobu, three-star Joël Robuchon, and Aureole at Mandalay Bay, with its electronic laptop wine list and 45ft ‘wine tower’ accessed by sommeliers on trapezes. It was shirt-popping stuff and I’ve never eaten so consistently well in such a concentrated per-iod. So here’s a confession: I walked into Vegas and waddled out. All on my own.
Jonathan Ray is wine editor of the Daily Telegraph and co-editor of SpectatorScoff!