I can recall the excitement I felt driving down The Strip for the first time over a decade ago and pointing out to my companion all the famous casinos we’d seen on television and in movies that we were now seeing up close and personal.
We were there for two reasons. First, to attend a big fight between Prince Naseem Hamed and Marco Barrera, and secondly to take advantage of the fact that Las Vegas was beginning to style itself as a dining hotspot.
We left disappointed on both counts. Hamed was beaten and our meals weren’t much more impressive, which only confirmed that Las Vegas still had a way to go to earn the “dining capital” title it was claiming.
That was in back in 2001 when Las Vegas was in a state of flux.
Despite those disappointments, there was an energy about the city and although I can still only deal with the heat, cigarette smoke and general craziness for a few days at a time, I still make an effort to visit Sin City at least once a year.
Some things have remained the same since that first trip however a great deal has changed.
Where entertainment and gambling were once the main draws for visitors’ money, they are now just as likely to head to the city for its high-end shopping options and in my case ever increasing array of unique dining experience and beverage possibilities.
While the food offerings of Las Vegas have been steadily improving for the last decade, it was on my most recent trip that I genuinely felt that it was nearly ready to be scrutinized as a world-class dining experience.
It was a meal at the newly opened Hakkasan at the MGM Grand, which surprised me and persuaded me that the dining scene was finally reaching an exciting level of maturity. While I’ve eaten at Hakkasan in London on many occasions I had not expected the food to match the consistently excellent fine dining experience. I was pleasantly surprised to be served a meal that was every bit as good.
While there are always going to be culinary low points and restaurants that fail to match the standards of their siblings in other cities, I am delighted to say there were some genuine surprises that deserve honourable mentions. There’s Simon Restaurant & Lounge at Palms, MOzen Bistro at the Mandarin Oriental and The Cosmopolitan’s The Wicked Spoon.
All of this, combined with the marked rise in the standards of its restaurant offerings, means that Las Vegas’ claim to be a world class dining city is definitely less hollow than it was on my first visit in 2001.