King, at 18 King St. in the former Mekong space, debuted without a ton of fanfare at the beginning of September, but in the weeks since then, diners have been buzzing about the seasonal restaurant with a daily changing menu, a London bent, and three women owners.
The lack of build-up is partly due to where the team comes from. Chefs Jess Shadbolt and Clare de Boer and their friend Annie Shi, who runs the front-of-house, didn’t have a wide network in the city. They arrived from London in the last year after spending time at the influential and celebrated Italian restaurant River Cafe, deciding that New York was the place to pursue their goal of opening a restaurant. "It was a great backdrop to our little dream," Shadbolt says. Here’s what else you should know about the sleeper hit of early fall:
1) The menu changes daily, and they’re serious about it. Part of Shadbolt and de Boer’s dream was to cook lots of different kinds of food, and they consider having a set menu totally against the idea. The two of them, plus one other chef, are the only people in the kitchen currently. They prep different food daily. They receive proteins like quail and hens on certain days of the week, and once they’re out, they’re out. The restaurant is very much personal for the two women, who talked about the idea while cooking together at River Cafe, and they want to stick with the original concept. "It keeps it challenging for us," Shadbolt says. "We never want to get into the habit of prepping for the following day, or prepping two days out," de Boer says.
2) But that means they really don’t want to have a "signature dish." They’ve even gone as far as to get rid of menu items that people keep asking for. People have been buzzing about standouts on the menu like a malfatti appetizer and fish stew, and at some point, diners started asking specifically for those dishes. So the chefs decided to kill both items. "Everyone’s always asking, ‘What’s your signature dish?’" Shadbolt says. "We’re doing our best not to have one," de Boer says. Maybe the malfatti will come back one day, but they’re in no rush. "We want to cook so many things. We have a list of our favorite foods that runs six pages along," Shadbolt says. "If we get stuck on that dish, it precludes us from doing so many wonderful things with the same ingredients."
3) Expect lots and lots of vegetables. The restaurant overall is very much inspired by food in Italy and the south of France, where both chefs visited while growing up. They’d visit the markets then, and doing the same thing in New York is a driving force for the women. "We could often write a menu without protein on it," Shadbolt says.
4) Most of the staff members are women. It’s not on purpose. "Completely unintentional," de Boer says. "We don’t want it to become a harem," Shadbolt jokes. "Or get sued for discrimination," de Boer adds. Because they didn’t have a huge network in New York, they relied on introductions, and it just so happens that they’ve been introduced to many women, they say. They’re currently trying to find more employees for the kitchen and mostly just want to find someone that will understand the food, no matter the gender. "It’s so specific, what we do," de Boer says. "We’re hoping that someone will love what we do and roll into our fray."
5) The friendship between the three women is the core of the restaurant. The three main players spends all their time together, and in the kitchen, Shadbolt and de Boer say it’s been seamless to work together. "Clare and I have always spoken the language when it comes to food," Shadbolt says. "I could read 100 menus and tell you what she’d pick." So far, they haven’t had the disagreements that sometimes color restaurant openings. Everybody’s worked on the physical space, from putting tiles down in the kitchen to de Boer’s mother designing the dining room. The working relationship between de Boer, Shadbolt, and Shi "has been paramount," Shadbolt says. "It’s unspoken. Most things don’t need explaining," de Boer says. "We don’t even need verbal communication. We can look at each other and know."