Here’s an admission to invite scorn from the culinary cognoscenti: some of the best meals I’ve ever had have been in casinos. Not the soulless food courts that process plastic production line fare, or the pantomime theme outlets that play off the pastiche of the casino environment. But in the big money gaming spaces, there are plenty of big spenders, which translates into top chefs and restaurants – with Las Vegas and Macau headlining the list.
Vegas has big-name entertainers in residence (Celine Dion and David Copperfield were amongst the star attractions when I was last there) and there are also plenty of big-name chefs. Wolfgang Puck, Thomas Keller, Gordon Ramsay, Alain Ducasse and Guy Savoy all have outposts in Sin City, amongst a staggering array of restaurants. I had an exceptional night of Asian fusion at Hakassan; a grand night of steak and red wine at The Bellagio; and possibly the best piece of fish I’ve ever had at Bartolotta at The Wynn, now running as Costa di Mare, but still doing exceptional Italian seafood.
And so last week’s maiden visit to Macau, China, came with great anticipation. Macau has six times the gambling revenue of Las Vegas, and an unapologetically garish feel to go with that number – you get the sense Liberace would think it was all a little over the top. From an Eiffel Tower replica that’s lit up in rainbow colours at night to the indoor canals and ceiling frescos at The Venetian (where the hotel has a staggering three thousand rooms), there’s nothing understated about Macau – including the food.
Cue an Indian buffet at a casino, which doesn’t sound too appealing at face value – except the Golden Peacock is a Michelin-starred Indian restaurant with a wondrous array of options. Or the dim sum takeaway in the food court that’s an outpost of Tim Ho Wan, the world’s first Michelin-starred dim sum restaurant from Hong Kong. (The first restaurant was a tiny 20-seater that makes an utterly addictive pork bun, all sweet, savoury and moreish.) And then there’s the highlight of the Macau trip: Robuchon Au Dome at the Grand Lisboa.
The late Joel Robuchon has establishments bearing his name around the world, all celebrating the French flair and mastery that made him so celebrated. The Macau restaurant is as worthy a memorial as any. It’s a fabulous space, and the food follows suit: a dozen different bread options, a caviar-laden vichyssoise, bouillabaisse teeming with assorted seafood, a crab-and-tomato millefeuille that’s as much a work of art as food. And I’d mention the dessert trolley, but my dietician reads this column, and so I’ll do no more than suggest it was Robuchon’s nod to Willy Wonka for wonder and delight. But the defining aspect of a visit to Robuchon au Dome is what might be the most intimidating wine list in the world: a 543-page opus that features 17 000 different wines.
The list is available on an iPad, but the physical version is a lot more fun: a massive telephone directory of a file that almost needs a second person to carry it. And what a list it is – endless pages of Bordeaux and Burgundy, Rhône and Alsace, new-world and old, new release and older vintage. You need a large glass of wine just to gather the courage to start going through the list and work out what on earth you’re going to order.
For the record, there are only five South African wines on the list – Anwilka, Morgenster, Hartenberg and De Trafford reds, and the Vin de Constance – along with a huge German section, and an assortment of Italian, Spanish, Australian, Chilean and Argentinean. But it’s a French restaurant from a Gallic great, so I spent 40 minutes juggling pages, spotting familiar names (Petrus, Lafite, Mouton Rothschild), and noting the vintages and ratings (Wine Spectator and Robert Parker) attached to each wine in the almighty collection.
In the end, we had three half bottles, for a little more variety: a 2003 Les Forts De Latour, richly perfumed and vibrant; a 2006 Vieux Château Certan, a beautiful duet of cabernet franc and merlot; and a darker, moodier 2008 Chateau Haut-Bailly. Three very different but lovely French wines that completed an unforgettable night out and reaffirmed that some of the best culinary experiences in the world really do happen at casinos.
What I’m drinking this week: The 2015 Stellenbosch cabernet sauvignon story is already local wine folklore, but that story continues to unfold as the wines in question get a little older. Cue the Le Riche reserve from that famed vintage, from an estate that’s top of the Stellenbosch cabernet sauvignon ladder. Four years on, it’s magnificent: rich, supple, bold and perfectly balanced – a perfect example of the varietal. But there’s no need to rush: as good as it is now, it’s only going to get better over the next decade or two.
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