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Chips, flips and a night with Flavour Flav

Simon Binns discovers there’s more to Las Vegas than drinking and gambling, but does a lot of that anyway.

Written by . Published on August 3rd 2010.

Chips, flips and a night with Flavour Flav

It’s not all about the gambling, you know. Las Vegas has built up a remarkable roster of chefs keen to open restaurants in Sin City, and the place is now as much a destination for gourmets as it is hedonists.

If you want to get in anywhere, get a VIP, or know someone who does. Otherwise bring a camping chair for the hours you’ll spend in queues. It’ll cost you, but if you’ve got the dollars, it definitely cuts down on the hassle.

That said, I was here for a bit of both and by the time I arrive in the stunning Wynn Las Vegas after a 14 hour flight from Heathrow via Houston, the sun is setting. The perfect time to dump the bags and head out for a beer or seven. Fine dining can wait for now, and so can the blackjack table.

Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay was the starting point and it was a bit of a jaw-dropper. There comes a point in every man’s life where he has to stop himself and wonder how the hell he got there. For me, it was looking out onto the strip from the 64th floor balcony and sharing the amazing view. With Flavour Flav. From Public Enemy. And yes, he had a massive clock round his neck.

And so it was for the rest of the four-day stay. Our body clocks never really stood a chance - soon enough it was 6am and my friends and I were teaching half a dozen insurance brokers from Philadelphia and an escort girl looking for business some choice Middlesbrough FC terrace chants.

Approximately 37 minutes sleep and we were up, trying to mix GMT with the 38 degree sunshine and the incessant sound of slot machines ringing in our ears. Stumbling out of the lift and through the Wynn, an opulent mix of red and gold, it was hard not to be impressed by the mix of high-end restaurants and shops.

But we had somewhere else to be – the Venus pool party at Caesars Palace, where a poolside day bed costs a whopping $400; although the spectacle was worth the hefty fee. Indulgent doesn’t even begin to cover it. Whooping, cheering and extremely loud R&B (I swear Las Vegas DJs only collectively own six records, three of them by Rihanna) were the order of the day, as well as a dip in the water with the standard issue cigar and expensive sunglasses.

A towel down and a cheese burger later and it was back to Caesars for Pure - the main event in Vegas’ Friday night line-up. As we headed over to see our VIP man, the lovely Spencer, I couldn’t help but notice there was a queue to get in the queue to get in.

And so it goes in Vegas. If you want to get in anywhere, get a VIP, or know someone who does. Otherwise bring a camping chair for the hours you’ll spend in queues. If you want to sit down, go VIP. It’ll cost you – anywhere from $250 - $450 for a bottle of Grey Goose vodka – but if you’ve got the dollars, it definitely cuts down on the hassle.

The fact that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas forbids me from telling you too much about the cavernous Pure, aside from a whole load of bumping and grinding and a woman selling $30 lollipops to idiots like me at the end of the night, which arrived at 7am and resulted in me pulling off a forward flip in the hotel lobby and being cornered by a very tall man in the toilet who wouldn’t let me out until I correctly guessed his height.

The lack of clocks in Las Vegas makes it hard to ever really know the time and leads to a fascinating breakfast scene. Half the people there are still drunk, the rest are hungover. A constant mini-motorcade of people with suitcases – arriving and leaving – whizz through the lobbies of every hotel, irrespective of the time of day or night. All of life truly is here. All the time.

Saturday afternoon was time to hit the casinos. Depending where you are on the strip, you’ll pay between $5 and $25 for your average game of roulette and blackjack. High rollers are catered for at every casino but the amateurs are in the majority. A whirlwind tour of the Bellagio, Venetian and Treasure Island did for the afternoon. Because Saturday night was the big one.

We were all looking forward to dinner at Twist, Pierre Gagnaire’s seriously stylish eatery in the relatively new Mandarin Hotel. The setting is just the right side of hip and the service is formal without being stuffy. My name on the booking; I host the table, although waiters are happy to chat as well as recommend wine.

Five of us ate but rather than bore you with our entire bill, I’ll take you through my food. The langoustine that came four ways was impressive in presentation and flavour. Balanced on its own shell and expertly doused with teriyaki? Check. Served as a jelly with a sweet and sour tomato reduction? Of course. How about a seaweed ice cube and suitably sharp grapefruit sauce? Go on then. The version that came reduced with a sherry mousse arrived in a magnetic ramekin and steel arch. Four variations of one dish may appear showy, but the variety of flavours was worth the extra table decoration.

Then came the duck, served like a thicker carpaccio with tender morel cherries in a blackcurrant sauce. The sparing accompaniment of plump gnocchi and unobtrusive celery and rhubarb fondue brought the best out of the perfectly pink meat.

The lemon mousse, sorbet and cream combination that arrived for dessert was sharper than a chef’s knife and would have put a spring in my step had I not been mentally and physically exhausted. Full to bursting and happy as a sand boy, it was time for bed. Vegas had beaten me and I was happy to concede.

Sunday doesn’t really exist in Vegas, so an afternoon margarita session around the three pools in the Wynn set us up for a night off-strip. Freemont Street was the original Vegas centre before the big boys moved in and still has plenty of character. Dollar beers and cheaper gaming tables in older casinos such as Binion’s and the Golden Nugget provided a welcome contrast to the glitz and glamour of the strip, although we did plug ourselves back in to visit the Playboy Club (underwhelming) and Ghost Bar (too cool for school) at Palms.

A few final hands at the Wynn and it was time for a quick snooze, a morning dash to the airport and another 14 hour flight back to reality.

To get the best of Vegas, you have to embrace it with both arms; give yourself over to it completely. And if you do lose a sizable chunk of change to a topless croupier called Candy, at least you can console yourself with the fact that Michelin-starred chefs will happily accept credit cards.

VIP club entries with thanks to Chris O Connor Promotions.

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