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Loving Las Vegas

Published 24 June 2001
Style Magazine
415th article

From left, Robert Earl, Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Flavin, Michael Winner and Georgina Hristova at the London Club Restaurant

The Brits recently opened a hotel-casino in Las Vegas - and boy are the natives laughing. They point at the hugely over-budget Aladdin Casino and pour scorn on our efforts. They criticise the design - customers don't have to walk through gaming areas to get to their rooms, the front on the Vegas strip is inconsequential, the real entrance through underground tunnels at the back is dreary, the signposting in the massive interior is inadequate, the debt is so great the casino will sink under it, and so on. Much the same has been said of many casinos opening in Vegas. But it is London Clubs, a major British gaming organisation, that's now facing the flak.

I last went to Vegas in 1967 to see my hero, Dean Martin, at the Sands. It's different today, with 5,000-room hotel-casinos fronted by unbelievable creations. The Paris boasts a half-size Eiffel Tower and Parisian streets. The Venetian offers near full-size replicas of the Doge's Palace, the campanile and the Rialto bridge, complete with gondoliers to glide you along. Bellagio has a massive lake surrounded by crinkle-tiled Italian villas and a stunning water display from its fountains. Aladdin, which I greatly enjoyed, has meticulously built Arabian streets with a sky so real you think you're outside. There's even a believable thunderstorm with rain, which, sensibly, doesn't get you wet.

The London Club entrance, down the road from the main Aladdin lobby, is very sophisticated and leads to a posh gaming room where you expect to find James Bond. It won the coveted Las Vegas Golden Spade award for the Best High Roller Area and Aladdin won Best Newcomer. Some of the criticism is correct. The entrance on the Vegas strip needs glamourising. The underground drive to reach the lobby looks like a basement car park. An Aladdin's-cave atmosphere would cheer it up no end. The signs inside are minimal. I got lost continually. In other casinos there are frequent "country lane" signposts with directions guiding you to all areas.

But Aladdin will probably have the last laugh. Its performance is bucking up, its gaming income improving. I loved it. My suite looked out onto the Eiffel Tower and the Bellagio lake. The bathroom was decked out superbly. There were more towels and accoutrements than you could dream of. My butler, Carlos, was impeccable, helpful and intelligent.

The food ranged from excellent to cheap and cheerful, but very tasty. In the London Club Restaurant I sampled first-rate sweet-and-sour chicken, roasted halibut and an enormous variety of other delights. I was visiting for the 50th birthday of Planet Hollywood's founder and owner, the jovially charismatic Robert Earl. At the first of three parties I sat with Sylvester Stallone and his wife, Jennifer at a table for four. They're exceptionally nice people.

The Aladdin is a world of its own. In the Desert Passage, the Commander's Palace served me one of the best meals of all time. It included Louisiana pan-roasted gulf oysters with a confit of artichokes topped with double cream and French breadcrumbs, Louisiana pecan-crusted fish and Creole bread-pudding soufflee with velvet bourbon whiskey sauce. The restaurant is owned by the Brennan family from New Orleans. It proves America boasts an incredible variety of foods, which they prepare and serve just as well as we do in Europe.

The lower-deck eating places are terrific. The Zanzibar Cafe faces hundreds of slot machines. They ping endlessly. Breakfast coffee and real orange juice come in seconds. The bacon is crisp and tasty. The waffle with two fried eggs, maple syrup and butter is a masterpiece. Our waitress, Janice Stigliano, should be sent round the world to teach others how to be charming and thorough. The basement self-service Spice Market Buffet offers Italian, Asian and American counters as well as many more varieties. The chef, Charles Clark, told me they serve 4,000 people over a weekend. I thought the meat in particular was very flavourful.

My biggest Aladdin disappointment was being ripped off by a limousine driver who was parked outside on my first night. He took $75 and didn't come back for us when we'd finished dinner at Bellagio. I'd foolishly paid him in advance for the return trip at more than the asking rate. Fellow party guests viewed my plight with total lack of concern. "If you only lose £50 in Vegas you've done well," was their attitude. I didn't gamble. Mummy lost £8m at the Cannes casino in the 1970s. She sold antiques and paintings bequeathed to me to pay for it. As the saying goes: I gave already. Georgina lost £15 on the slot machines. Think, if she were my mother, at today's money I'd be £25m richer.


Michael Winner points out that few film people have opened restaurants (June 3). Perhaps Mr Winner should redress the balance by opening one of his own.
Peter Calver, by e-mail

At a recent Sunday lunch at English's in Brighton (good fish, shame we were outsourced from the plush faux-Regency dining room to the empty one upstairs), we requested mayonnaise with our shellfish platter. The waiter arrived with a saucer, onto which he had clearly decanted mayonnaise from a jar. On calling for the manager, we were informed that they were unable to serve us with real mayonnaise as the health inspector had recently placed an embargo on any dish requiring the use of raw eggs. Could it possibly be true that real mayonnaise in restaurants is now a thing of the past?
Robert Dudley, London

While I concur with NT Shepherd's belief that the original name for the pastry was Bakewell pudding (June 10), I take issue with him over the derivation of the name Bakewell tart. In my youth, it was a synonym for "thinking man's crumpet".
Meyer Zweben, Poole, Dorset

After a pleasurable meal at Hazlewood Castle, near Tadcaster, we were invited to tour the building. On spotting a cleaner in one of the corridors, we asked him whether the place was haunted. Yes, he replied, by a restless spirit with a shrewd eye for beauty, high living and good food. On our return to reception, we commented on the knowledge of the attendant, only to be informed that all the cleaning staff had left hours before. In fact, none of their staff fitted our description: tanned, silver-haired, waspish and gossipy, with an open-necked shirt showing a glint of medallion. Is there the ghost of a chance that Mr Winner might have ancestors in that neck of the woods?
JL Fisher, Leeds

Marco Pierre White was absolutely right to take issue with Simon Parker Bowles's comment that cod brandade demands a strong and salty flavour, and may only be appreciated by "discerning" diners (June 10). I would also like to ask whether Mr Parker Bowles is aware of how damaging salt is to one's health? An acquired taste is of very little use if it causes harm. Clearly, Mr Winner has better taste in preserving his wellbeing, while also satisfying his palate.
Peter J Bates, West Sussex

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