Forget the gambling – if you’re going to Vegas it’s a safe bet you’ll experience a food lovers’ dream, says Bernice Saltzer.
Chef John Courtney surveys his realm with all of the pride of a new father, showing off his children. And in some way, that’s exactly what Block 16 is – the newest culinary addition at The Cosmopolitan hotel in Las Vegas which John has overseen and helped curate.
It’s a food court with a difference, the result of a long process to bring in some of the USA’s finest homegrown offerings – along with a scattering of international favourites – and put them together in one corner of this amazing hotel.
Described as an “urban food hall”, Block 16 is a new home for New Orleans’ favourite, District: Donuts. Sliders. Brew, Nashville’s Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, Portland’s mega-sandwich favourite Lardo and, behind a closed door which opens daily at 4pm, is Ghost Donkey, a New York tequila bar.
There’s a range of international outlets too, all overseen by John.
“It’s definitely been a lot of hard work, but we love the results and the guests seem to love it too,” he said.
Originally from California, John ended up in Vegas after cutting his culinary teeth in France and for the last 10 years has been involved in launching a number of restaurants in and around the world-famous Strip.
“There’s no doubt that Las Vegas is now a massive food destination in its own right,” said John. “It’s no longer about people just coming to gamble. We’re the entertainment capital of the world and it’s important that the food scene lives up to that title.”
Las Vegas regulars (of which I’m one!) will absolutely concur with John’s comments.
The days when the lure was all-you-can- eat buffets for free to entice gamblers into the casinos are virtually gone. The buffets are certainly still there but there’s also a vibrant, exciting and unique food scene with enough variety to please everyone.
The two chefs vying for the Las Vegas crown are undoubtedly Wolfgang Puck and Gordon Ramsay.
Ramsay’s celebrity status has clearly been well and truly cashed in here, with restaurants up and down the Strip.
There’s Gordon Ramsay Steak at Paris Casino, Gordon Ramsay Burger at Planet Hollywood, Gordon Ramsay Pub and Grill at Caesar’s Palace and even his new fish and chip shop at the Linq.
If that wasn’t enough, he also now owns a purpose-built replica of Hell’s Kitchen in the grounds of Caesar’s Palace where you can enjoy dishes off the television show menu (without the shouting presumably) and look at the wall of fame of past winners.
Wolfgang Puck may not have the same high profile, but he’s certainly got a huge presence in Vegas, with an astonishing seven restaurants – including a Wolfgang Puck Express at the airport.
Scouring the world for the best dining experiences has also been on the agenda of the Venetian resort – which comprises the fabulous Venetian and Palazzo hotels – which is constantly upping its game when it comes to its food offering.
One of the latest additions is Mott 32, a Hong Kong-inspired restaurant which has opened at the Palazzo, which derives its name from 32 Mott Street in New York, the address of the first Chinese convenience store in the USA.
The design is unspeakably elegant where clearly no expense has been spared in creating the perfect backdrop for mouth- wateringly brilliant food.
As a non-meat eater, I groaned with joy at the wild mushroom dim sum and the signature blackened smoked cod – simply one of the most delicious and memorable dishes I’ve ever eaten.
The meat eaters adored the Japanese kobe beef with charred leeks and black bean paste, tender, succulent and simply divine.
Mott 32 is one of a number of new openings at this resort, which has also managed to attract a Los Angeles favourite, The Factory Kitchen.
This Italian eatery relies on family recipes handed down from generation to generation and is already proving a huge hit with visitors.
Of course, Vegas is as much about entertainment as it is about eating. Along with the many fabulous shows (my tip if you’re looking for something new is the hilarious and risqué Opium) and performances from the likes of Lady Gaga Celine Dion, Jennifer Lopez and Britney, you can in fact combine the two.
The place doing this best at present is probably Rose Rabbit Lie, the oddly named supper club tucked away at The Cosmopolitan. Here, while tucking into a range of reinvented American favourites (it even has its own caviar menu) you can enjoy some amazing entertainment.
It’s loud, it’s brash – but it’s Las Vegas and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Bernice travelled to Las Vegas from Manchester International Airport, where you can start your foodie experience by using the Escape Lounge. It’s available at all three terminals and is a great way to relax before a flight, with complimentary food and drink on offer. Prices start from £21 when booked in advance. For more information or to book visit The Escape Lounge.
To book a stay – and to find a range of offers – at The Venetian Resort, visit venetian.com