Las Vegas's newest hot spot
Las Vegas has its fair share of flashy hotels, from the Venetian with its gondola-filled "canals" to the Paris resort, speared with a replica Eiffel Tower.
The Nobu Hotel Caesars Palace is not one of them - and that's definitely a good thing.
Opened in February, the hotel is the first of its kind in the world, conceptualised by a pair not unfamiliar with the hospitality industry: celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa, with his 20-plus upscale Japanese restaurants scattered from Melbourne to Moscow, and award-winning actor Robert De Niro, who ventured into the hotel industry with the opening of the Greenwich in New York in 2008 and is a co-founder of the Nobu Hospitality Group.
Their combined experience shines through at this slick gem, occupying what was once the Centurion Tower at Caesars Palace - the building was completely gutted to make way for the Nobu rooms, creating a luxury hotel enclave within the larger resort.
Although not boutique by traditional standards, the hotel's 181 rooms make it positively petite in Vegas - the rest of the Caesars complex is home to some 4000 accommodations over five additional towers plus dozens of restaurants and bars, multiple casinos, a performing arts centre and a vast alfresco pool area.
Unfortunately there isn't a private entrance to the Nobu Hotel, as is the case at a number of other exclusive Vegas properties. It does see me crossing a casino gaming floor but considering that some guests face treks of more than five minutes to reach their beds, this seems like a sure bet.
From the intimate lobby I'm whisked up in high-tech lifts, sans buttons, where I scan my room card before entering and allow "smart technology" to read floor and room details.
I've barely had time to admire the David Rockwell-designed room - dragon mural above the bed, lantern-inspired lamps, textured carpeting to resemble rake lines in a Zen garden, and traditional Japanese woodblock prints - when a welcome tray of green tea plus rice cakes from Matsuhisa's home town arrive.
It's a nice immersive touch and a world away from the chaos of the ground-floor casino.
My deluxe king room is large with a window-side L-shape velvet sofa and coffee table and plenty of space. The bathroom is almost as big, with a huge black-tiled rain shower stocked with customised Natura Bisse amenities infused with rosemary and white tea, and a teak stool should all the late nights catch up with me.
While private hotel facilities are limited, Nobu guests are granted access to all of the offerings at Caesars. And there's a lot, from the pool to the restaurants to the spa, which offers a handful of signature treatments exclusively to Nobu guests.
The Nagomi Ritual, for example, is a 90-minute therapy that incorporates a foot treatment with crystallised honey particles, a shiatsu massage using four aroma "nectars", and a facial featuring carbon dioxide to increase skin hydration and revitalisation.
Between the shows and the casinos, dinner ends up being a late affair in Vegas. With my 10.30pm restaurant reservation still four hours away I make the most of the hotel's room service, which features an all-Nobu menu.
I order the R.L.T. (a trio of rock-shrimp sliders with a wasabi aioli), sashimi tacos (four finger-size taco shells with crab, salmon, tuna) and the High Roller bento box.
The latter offers neat compartments filled with lobster lightly brushed with wasabi, perfectly seared wagyu, spicy garlic shrimp, nigiri and hand-rolls. In-room cocktails and desserts also have a Nobu twist: for a sweet ending I order the Suntory whiskey cappuccino, tofu cheesecake and green tea brulee.
The minibar has a good selection of sakes and Japanese beers on offer. The room-service menu lists a couple more, including the Nobu Special Reserve 28, a full-bodied spirit that - I'm told - is best served over ice with a hint of yuzu juice. It's delicious, but not cheap at US$160 ($189) for a 750-millilitre bottle.
The Nobu Restaurant off the hotel's lobby is the only one of its kind in the world to offer a morning meal, with a Japanese twist: yuzu soba pancakes come topped with blueberry-and-yuzu compote plus pecan-miso butter, and the eggs Matsuhisa feature roasted asparagus, bonito egg sauce, ikura and toasted bao.
I order the breakfast okonomiyaki, a Japanese-style omelette stuffed with shitake, red cabbage, bacon, chicken and rock shrimp with wasabi aioli and bonito flakes on top - the side of green-tea waffles is probably overkill, but I clean the plate nonetheless.
I draw the line at drinking green tea or Ikaati Himalayan for breakfast and instead opt for a strong coffee, blissfully un-Starbucks branded (the chain seems to have an outlet every couple of steps in Vegas).
In a city where bigger is better and excess is expected, the Nobu Hotel offers a refreshingly pared-back experience, setting the bar high for three pipeline Nobu properties in London, Bahrain and Riyadh.
Natasha Dragun was a guest of the Nobu Hotel.
Five other celebrity-owned hotels
1 The Greenwich, New York: Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro is also behind this drop-dead-gorgeous boutique hotel in New York's Tribeca neighbourhood, where the actor launched the Tribeca Film Festival. Individually designed rooms come with reclaimed-wood floors, Moroccan-tiled bathrooms and sumptuous beds overlooking an internal courtyard where breakfast and cocktails are served. Don't miss the Japanese-themed spa. thegreenwichhotel.com.
2 The Clarence, Dublin: U2
Set on the River Liffey, the 49-room Clarence occupies an 1852 building transformed by U2 band mates Bono and The Edge. Rooms are decked out by Irish artisans and local fare stars on the menus in the Tea Room and the Study. The hotel's Octagon Bar was a popular U2 hangout before the boys bought in. theclarence.ie.
3 Palazzo Versace, Gold Coast: Donatella Versace
On a strip of exclusive Gold Coast real estate, Italian fashion designer Donatella Versace's resort offers opulent waterside accommodation fitted out with gilded mirrors, antique chandeliers and plush European furnishings. The mod-Australian fare dished up at hotel restaurant Vanitas is among the best on this strip of Queensland coast. palazzoversace.com.au.
4 Sundance Resort, Park City: Robert Redford
On the outskirts of Park City, renowned for hosting the annual Sundance Film Festival, this resort comes courtesy of film legend Robert Redford. Set at the base of Mount Timpanogos, the hotel's larger suites and "mountain homes" come with private balconies and open fireplaces, and diversions range from hiking to horse riding. sundanceresort.com.
5 Blancaneaux Lodge, San Ignacio: Francis Ford Coppola
Film director Francis Ford Coppola owns a number of hotels in Belize, but this 20-room luxe retreat takes the cake for its location - amid jungle and waterfalls - and eco-friendly accommodation. Villas are run on hydroelectricity, and restaurant meals are sourced from on-site organic gardens, complemented by wines from Coppola's own vineyard. coppolaresorts.com.
Where Nobu Hotel Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, Nevada, US. +1 702 785 6677, nobucaesarspalace.com.
How much Rooms start from US$149 ($176) a night, excluding taxes and daily resort fees.
Top marks Make the most of the priority Nobu Restaurant reservations offered to in-house guests - the dining room is the largest of its kind in the world but is still suitably dim and sultry and features several teppanyaki tables, a sushi bar and private dining area.
Black marks In a city where free drinks and often free rooms are not uncommon, charging US$15 ($17) a day for Wi-Fi access is hard to swallow.
Don't miss If you're lucky enough to check in to one of the Nobu suites (Hakone or Sake), make the most of the private event catering with a "master chef" to slice sashimi and teppanyaki lobster in-room before your eyes.
Sydney Morning Herald