This Christmas has been a little different to usual. Most years it’s about champagne breakfast and panetone french toast on the barbecue at Dad’s, before lunch at Mum’s with turkey, ham, salads and bread.

It’s soaked in Sydney sunshine, washed off with a quick swim and sodden with too much sauvingon blanc.

This year we felt like having some time out. If there was going to be one place where Christmas would be different, we guessed it would be Las Vegas. We didn’t mind if it was a little fake.

So three days before Christmas we trundled into Vegas. The Hungry One had to endure hours of “Vegas, baby, Vegas!” in the car. If I hadn’t been hand feeding him chocolate chip cookies I think I may have ended up spending Christmas wandering through the desert.

The Hungry One’s Christmas present was an ode to obscene excess. While he was sent off to return the hire car to the MGM Grand ( an epic odyssey on its own) I was to check us into the Mandalay Bay and the room that was his present. A shining tower of gilded gold, the Mandalay Bay is blessed with a predator aquarium, wave pool, house of blues and series of vista suites with 180 degree views of the strip.

Welcome to our home for the next four days. I’m not sure we needed the wet bar, the table to seat 14, the four plasma screens, including one ghost set in the bathroom mirror. But the view was to sigh for; the 34th floor just far enough away from the seething hoards of the strip, the spa bath delightful and the inbuilt sauna into the shower a notable novelty.

For those of us for whom gambling involves choosing a restaurant to spend our money in, Vegas is a strange creature. One should never underestimate just how large it is, particularly how far it is between the places you want to frequent and how common the places you might want to avoid are.

So here it is;

Christmas in Las Vegas; the good, the bad and the ugly

The good

Mario Batali’s R&R Restorante in the Venetian is an attractive, warm, enticing space, like a country house with a well stocked cellar, but just 50 metres away from the jangling of slot machines. Filled with high rollers from Macau and their three year olds, mid western wives in twin sets and pearls and us, the cortillon’s of wine, soundtrack of The Big Chill, complimentary amuse bouche of a crostini with chickpeas, lemon and chilli made for a comfortable transition on our first night in Sin City. The signature beef cheek ravioli, smothered with pureed duck livers, brown butter and truffle is like a dirty weekend in your mouth.

Payard Patisserie in Caesars Palace is a place best found by following your nose. The smell of melted chocolate and liquid animal fats will guide you through the beast of a casino; past Bette Midler’s theatre at the Colosseum and stop you short before you reach the ‘lost city of atlantis’. The chocolate impregnated waffles with banana and nutella made The Hungry One misty on Christmas morning. The light frisee salad that came with my quiche lorraine did the same for me; only because I was so grateful to see a vegetable that wasn’t a pickle in my burger.

Cirque du Soleil’s O. I’ve never seen Cirque du Soleil before, but figured O in Vegas, on Christmas night was as good a place to start as any. The 10 metre high dives, the descending ponies, the scuba divers turning the stage… It’s magical and wonderful and makes me wish I could touch my toes.

The Bellagio fountains. They’re beautiful. On Christmas night they danced to the Hallelujah chorus. I never thought that spurting water could make me cry.

Paris casino. The inside of Paris, with its mock French boulevards is actually one of the most charming spaces in Vegas. If you closed your eyes and ignored those wearing fanny packs, you could, maybe be in Paris.

A grand canyon helicopter tour. We figured we couldn’t come this close to a natural wonder and only see plastic imitations. A three hour, door to door tour involved an hour long helicopter tour to the west rim of the canyon. One of those few things that really has to be seen to believe.

Fatburger on the strip is hilarious, if only so you can hear the server scream ‘baby fat’ ‘baby fat’ to his wife as orders come in for their baby sized burger.

The normal fatburgers are meaty, sweet with fluffy white casings and helped enormously by a second squirt of ketchup. It’s a cheap, endlessly entertaining option on the strip, which is reasonably priced; which most things in Vegas aren’t. Welcome to our late Christmas lunch.I hope my mother never reads that.

Speaking of reasonably priced; this was not, but goes down as one of the most incredible food experiences I’ve ever had.

Joel Robuchon at the MGM Grand deserves a write up of its own. Perhaps it was the bread trolley on steroids, with more than twenty warm baked varieties to choose from; milk rolls, saffron brioche, basil, bacon twists, gruyere were just the top level. Maybe it was the second course of carpaccio of foie gras, shaved in curls with confit fingerling potato, shavings of parmesan and black truffle; which smelled like you’d meandered into the dwarfs den in the middle of the forrest. Maybe it was the verdant vines which curled around the lattice in the ‘courtyard’ where we sat, which was the only place inside any of the casinos where you truly felt you were elsewhere.

Maybe it was the fat finger of kobe beef, seared to medium rare, which had a crust like a macaroon, and with a cigar of confit carrot enveloping oxtail and cumin; a Robert Frost poem of a dish; lovely dark and deep.

Maybe it was the fact that the waiters managed to have a sense of humour despite their ultimate deference. Or maybe it was the fact that when the petit four trolley arrived it was so burdened that it couldn’t make it outside. That didn’t stop The Hungry One for merely asking for a sample of everything on it.

This is what he ate:
Pear gelee. Pistachio crusted sugar cigar. White chocolate with puffed rice. Lemon marshmallow. Almond nougat. Violet and raspberry macaroon in white chocolate. White chocolate passion fruit hedgehog. A canele. Roast almond bound with white chocolate. Almond financier. Strawberry macaron. Chocolate hazelnut truffle. Mandarin jelly. Chocolate square with caramel centre. Miniature Paris Brest. Dark chocolate triangle. Miniature opera cake. Ginger wrapped in chocolate. Caramel chocolate. Chocolate with praline and mousse. Lemon butterfly lollipop. Chocolate mint log. Chocolate caramel disc on rice crisp with gold leaf. Roast almond with cocoa. Chocolate and raspberry truffle. Dark chocolate truffle with soft centre. Yuzu truffle. Pistachio truffle. Date truffle. Vanilla truffle. Caramel chocolate igloo. Passion fruit truffle. Caramel log. Dark chocolate truffle rolled in cocoa. Dark salted caramel log. Rum truffle. Blueberry macaron with dark chocolate coating.

Maybe that’s why Joel Robuchon is now The Hungry One’s Peter Pan happy place. That was my Christmas present. Truly a gift that keeps on giving.

The bad

I’m not convinced that any cocktail is going to taste so good that I want to drink two litres of it out of a plastic guitar, strapped around my neck. Yet, people everywhere are wearing them.

Mix at THE Hotel in Mandalay Bay is a $14 million dollar construction on the 64th floor of THE Hotel adjoining Mandalay Bay. Our sorry destination on Christmas eve doesn’t just have a silly name. It’s a white, stark, modern cave that feels like Spaceballs, with a central chandelier like spawning fish.

It’s an Alain Ducasse restaurant. The man has six michelin stars. This should be a palace. Instead, it’s a rude joke. On Christmas eve we were served a foie gras terrine which was so frigid that it was like trying to carve a hockey puck. When, to my horror, for the first time ever I attempted to send something back I was told ‘this was how they served it all the time’. Excellent. Red wine came icy. The Hungry One’s lamb loin had more sinew in the flesh than Tyler Durden and my gnocchi with pumpkin two ways was devastating in its innovation. The pumpkin came cubed, and pureed. My fifteen month old niece has more exciting meals than that. Complimentary madelines from the kitchen came bloated and dry, with an eggcup of nutella. We couldn’t even bring ourselves to stay for dessert. I had a dream that night where I yelled at the manager and told him I felt fleeced. I think maybe I left with some repressed feelings. I hardly ever write bad things about places, but I feel better after having written this. Ha.

The ugly

Children do not belong in casinos, yet I’ve never seen so many twirling on chairs in front of pokies like wind up dolls.

Buffets may sound like an enticing prospect, but not even The Hungry One was prepared to saddle up for the two hour plus queue to make it to the front.

The fluorescent tshirt wearing GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS vendors who stand along the strip any time after 4pm and slap a stack of business card sized promotional slips against their hand three times before presenting your husband, in front of you, with their promise that by calling this number a sexy girl will arrive at his room in less than 20 minutes.

Merry Christmas. From Las Vegas.