What do a Michelin-starred chef and a legendary crystal-maker have in common?
More than meets the eye, as it happens. Both are French, although the chef hails from one of the southernmost parts of the country, and the heritage brand from the northeast is based hundreds of kilometres away. In terms of profession, one works in a sweltering kitchen of stainless steel, the other handcrafts its luxury transparent forms in an equally sweltering forge workshop. Ask the chef and the crystal-maker in question—that would be the inimitable Anne-Sophie Pic and the well-established Baccarat—and their response will be: Everything.
Clément Brunet-Monet, Asia-Pacific CEO of Baccarat, explains: “Our manufacture is like a kitchen; you have a team of people creating unique things from scratch from raw materials, all the way to the finished product, and it’s like a symphony. You have a guy doing the moulding and creating the crystal out of powder, and then you have a guy doing the blowing and another doing the finishing and so on—it’s a kitchen for crystal.”
And when a kitchen for food and a kitchen for crystal decide to meet, the result comes to life in the shape of Cristal Room, a three-way collaboration between the decorated French chef, the historical crystal brand, and local hospitality outfit Leading Nation, and this powerhouse trio is certainly formidable enough to tackle a project of this magnitude. Cristal Room, sitting atop Gloucester Tower in Landmark as one of the dining destinations of Forty-Five, is an ambitious opening that brings Anne-Sophie Pic’s award-winning cuisine to Hong Kong for the first time, in a space agreeably enhanced by Baccarat crystalware and décor.
“Baccarat’s vision is to be the most diverse brand, bringing light, pleasure, and joy to life; there are many parallels between the talent of Anne-Sophie Pic and our team,” Brunet-Monet continues. “We share the same values and philosophies; it’s a match waiting to happen.”
Anne-Sophie Pic—the leading French chef whose six restaurants have been honoured with a cumulative 10 Michelin stars and the other half of the Cristal Room equation—concurs. “Hong Kong has been very attractive to me for a long time. I love Baccarat and I love Hong Kong so when Baccarat proposed this project to me, I could not refuse,” Pic tells Robb Report Hong Kong a few evenings ahead of the soft-opening of her new restaurant.
Pic descends from generations of chefs and restauranteurs, most notably her grandfather, André, and father, Jacques, who each embarked on a journey to gain (and regain) three Michelin stars for their hotel and restaurant, Maison Pic. After her father passed, Anne-Sophie, who initially had no inclination to become a chef—much like her father, who wanted to be a mechanic and kept out of the kitchen until fate intervened—embarked on a similar odyssey, taking over the family establishment and steering it back to three-starred glory. Whether Cristal Room in Hong Kong will gain her an eleventh nod by the Michelin inspectors remains to be seen, but the odds are stacked in her favour.
Given Pic’s strong culinary background, French cuisine is expected at Cristal Room, but the locale will prove to be influential too, she says, and the menu will grow to encompass more Asian influences as time goes on. “We will start with French cuisine, but I love Asian ingredients, teas, and aromatic herbs, so I wanted this first menu to include what I like the most. […] Some people say I cook like a perfumer,” she says, and discerning gastronomes will know it is exactly this unique, delicate quality that has earned Pic her global renown.
“We work based on the same qualities,” says Brunet-Monet. “Her cuisine is elegant and not too strong. She thinks it’s good match with what Baccarat is doing. It’s not traditional French cuisine, where it’s heavy food. ASP is more modern, more feminine.”
No doubt wines form a key part of any French dining experience, but at Cristal Room, it’s a good time to observe a non-alcoholic habit—the alternative pairing option is a creative labour of love developed to painstaking perfection, and infuses different kinds of teas, coffee beans, and florals to create complex, palate-whetting concoctions. Yunnan peas, served with Kaviari Oscietra caviar, roasted geranium leaves, and gyokuro green tea, are subtly bolstered by a smoky geranium genmaicha Collins, while the aged-Comté-filled Le Berlingot pasta triangles—an ASP signature—swim in a mushroom consommé infused with coffee and nutty soba-cha buckwheat tea and get an additional kick from the mushroom latte.
A delicate white peony “martini” balances the equally dainty flavours of the wild seabass in a white Champagne sauce, topped with Petrossian Daurenki caviar—a Jacques Pic signature dish since 1971. St Marcellin cheese, wrapped in iced mochi skin with smoked Madagascan vanilla, goes smoothly with the oolong milk punch, and the millefeuille blanc, a neat, dainty, meticulously prepared dessert of Tahitian vanilla, jasmine jelly, and foam “clouds” of voatsiperifery pepper, perfectly embodies Pic’s precise cooking style.
“I want to leave an impression of freshness, elegance, tastefulness, and creativity. It’s not only a question of my cuisine, but also our capacity to make pairings with wine, non-alcoholic [drinks], and how to carry on the continuation of my cuisine,” says the chef.
Cristal Room not only occupies a top-tier floor boasting fantastic views of Hong Kong Island and Victoria Harbour, but it also surprises with its intentionally avant-garde restaurant layout, where the kitchen is part of the dining room.
It’s a design choice that’s difficult to describe but makes complete sense when you see it in person. Pic and Brunet-Monet both emphasised “no counters, no barriers” for the kitchen, and you might imagine a conventional set-up where the action is visible through a large window that allows you to see into the next room. Not so; the kitchen islands—metallic, shiny, and laden under plates and pans—literally extend into the dining room; the change from utilitarian floor tiles to smooth cream carpet is all that signals the difference in purpose.
It’s an inspired choice to break down the demarcation between kitchen and dining room, but the novel approach brings the audience closer, inviting them in as part of the experience and embracing the kitchen as a theatrical stage on which the chefs perform for enraptured diners. “We wanted to follow the concept of transparency because of Baccarat and the view, and because of the open space, there is no frontier between kitchen and dining room,” says Pic. Under her guidance and direction, the kitchen team carries out its tasks quietly and efficiently—no banging of pots and pans here, just structured, disciplined operation.
By bringing the chefs out of the back room and into the dining room proper, in full view of the guests, allows them to see the labour and expert coordination that goes into the meal with their own eyes, Brunet-Monet enthusiastically tells us over dinner. Designers Gilles et Boissier, whose vision has also touched a number of Baccarat retail concepts and the Baccarat hotel in New York, is close to the crystal brand and understands the goal. Baccarat chandeliers, displays, infinity mirrors, and reflective tiles illuminate the space.
“It was a challenge because [the designers] could not come to Hong Kong during Covid-19 so they had to do the design remotely,” Brunet-Monet explains, “but the space is so unique and strong that they have encapsulated the best of [Pic’s] personality and this amazing open kitchen. It’s more than an open kitchen—it’s a kitchen in the middle of the dining room.”
“You walk into this space where you expect the best cuisine, the best decoration, the best view, and the best location in Hong Kong. It all blends together to make it a unique space, and that’s what we look at—offering experiences beyond the brand and product,” he continues. “We want to go beyond expectations. It’s very important to surprise and offer the extra mile. We are turning 260 years old next year, so we strive to create new concepts.”
What about local competition in the French cuisine realm? “I don’t want to think [we are] against [anyone] or competing. I think we are just one restaurant offering something different; there is space for everyone, there are many French restaurants, and it’s important to have this challenge for the team, but we can all propose different styles,” Pic concludes.
43/F, Gloucester Tower, Landmark, 15 Queen’s Road Central, Central, Hong Kong
Tel: (+852) 3501 8580
All images courtesy of Cristal Room by Anne-Sophie Pic.