King holds its cards close to its chest. Words like “simple” and “understated” and “unassuming” are oft bandied about when discussing the neighborhood restaurant, opened earlier last year on the corner of King Street and 6th Avenue. The descriptors, while true, are slightly misleading. The decor, admittedly unfussy, is purposeful and elegant in its restraint. The dishes, which arrive on a plate with not a piece of excess garnish or drip of sauce in sight, are efficient yet complete. Such execution requires a methodical consideration that is certainly far from simple.
Standing at the helm of King’s kitchen are chefs Clare de Boer and Jess Shadbolt, both British expats and alums of River Café in London. General manager Annie Shi, a native New Yorker who spent time across the pond at Clove Club, handles the rest. King feels like a dialogue of sorts, one where three women are hashing out what it means to serve world-class food in an environment that redefines what a “white tablecloth restaurant” can be. At King, that means something that is upscale without arrogance, delicious without pretense.
The menu, which takes its inspiration from Southern France and Italy, changes every time King opens its doors, shifting according to daily catches and whims of weather. In that way it only further serves as the perfect extension of one’s own kitchen, where you can come in on any given night and have something fresh and unfamiliar. While certainly a challenge for de Boer and Shadbolt, it keeps it exciting for the guests who keep coming back, meal after meal.
Below, we talk to de Boer, Shadbolt, and Shi about an overrated Beatle, late-night lock-ups, and eating cake bits on the sly.
Place of residence:
Clare de Boer: New York.
Jess Shadbolt: Chinatown, NYC. Dumplings at any given moment.
Annie Shi: Midtown East, home to every high-rise office building and not a single decent restaurant except for Cafe China!
de Boer: Chef.
Shi: General manager and beverage director.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
de Boer: Mother to chickens and keeper of a wood oven.
Shadbolt: Breakfast Radio DJ
Shi: Nomadic wine drinker and builder of homes. I plan to have many animals when my schedule finally allows!
Quote to live by:
de Boer: “Just do it.”
Shadbolt: “Resist the temptation to disturb the curds.” — Rose Gray, Ruth Rogers The River Cafe Cookbook
Shi: “Kill them with niceness.”
First job you ever had:
de Boer: Modern dancer.
Shadbolt: Veneer stacker at my dad’s factory.
Shi: Creating a podcast for Museum of Chinese in America.
Least favorite part of your day:
de Boer: Waiting for the first order to come in.
Shadbolt: Breaking down cardboard boxes from the fridge in the trash room. Never gets more appealing.
Shi: Waiting to lock up at 12:30 a.m.
Windows down, the song you’re playing is:
de Boer: Talking Heads–“This Must Be the Place.”
Shadbolt: Anything from The Rolling Stones. Mick and the boys are the soundtrack to my life.
Shi: “Nights on Broadway” by the Bee Gees or anything Adele.
Three guilty pleasures:
de Boer: Sixth coffee of the day, taking taxis, eating bits of nuts/chocolate/any ingredient that has already been weighed out for a cake.
Shadbolt: 1) Raw flapjack mix; 2) Dancing with my eyes shut; 3) ’80s power ballads
Shi: Sleeping past noon; extravagant solo lunches filled with oysters and champagne; YA science fiction
If you had to watch one movie on repeat for eternity, what would it be?
de Boer: Can’t think of anything worse.
Shadbolt: Our home movies. They span four generations and have all the laughter, drama, and love of any epic film.
Shi: Derp. Not a big movie watcher, but I adore animated movies and documentaries like Chicken People.
You have a million dollars to spend on art, you buy…
de Boer: Hire my mum to design something; pay her a million dollars.
Shadbolt: Whatever Matisse I could get my hands on.
Shi: Rodin sculptures.
Plane, train or automobile for a trip?
de Boer: Car. Luke driving.
Shadbolt: Neither. Boat, always.
Shi: Plane, because it takes you further away.
What IS your favorite trip?
de Boer: Every trip is my favorite trip until my next trip! Anything with my family/boyfriend… which is everything.
Shadbolt: Rainy weekend to Aldeburgh on the Suffolk Coast in the UK. Windy walks on the pebble beach, fish and chips before flopping in front of the fire.
Shi: Going back to the UK where it still feels vaguely nostalgic and like a faraway home, especially when I’m visiting my boyfriend’s family in Sussex.
Personal travel ethos:
de Boer: Don’t make plans.
Shadbolt: It’s who you’re with not where you go.
Shi: Take trips as frequently as you can get away and pack light.
Drink of choice:
de Boer: Barry’s tea, splash of milk.
Shadbolt: Ricard with my 95-year-old grandma Belle. She puts it away.
Shi: Hanky Panky for the colder months, Negroni for the warmer ones, and always wine.
Beach house or tree house:
de Boer: Tree house.
Shadbolt: Beach. I’m at my happiest when I can see the sea.
Shi: Beach house. Fear of heights trumps fear of water.
Where was the best meal you ever had and what was it?
de Boer: Grandma’s chicken soup with a salad of grandpa’s lettuce.
Shadbolt: Bouillabaisse on the beach in the South of France cooked over an open fire. Achingly simple, truly perfect.
Shi: My mother’s cooking every time I go home, but mostly for indulging my need to have home-cooked Chinese food at all possible meals, including my breakfast this morning of wontons in broth, congee, and pickled vegetables. She even packed me lunch boxes to bring home for tomorrow morning.
What is the best news you ever received?
de Boer: That my sister got into college.
Shadbolt: That my sister was having a baby… and then added another two to the herd.
Shi: That my father finally got his dream job at 63
Who or what is largely overrated? Explain.
de Boer: So many things! I’ll spare you my honesty.
Shadbolt: Paul McCartney. I’m not even sure why.
Shi: Most things! Social media influencers, “what you do,” craft cocktails. The list goes on.
Briefly describe the best concert you have ever gone to.
de Boer: Neil Young in a small church a long time ago.
Shadbolt: Elton John at the River Cafe, London. It wasn’t a concert, but I happened to be cooking that night. Unforgettable.
Shi: London Grammar in Amsterdam in a small, beautiful church with stunning stained glass windows.
Where do you go for inspiration, peace of mind?
de Boer: Most recently, Sicily for inspiration. Always home for peace of mind.
Shadbolt: The kitchen table at my parents’ house in the country. I get my answers there.
Shi: Scarsdale, to my parent’s “retirement” home, where it is as suburban as it gets and that’s wonderful.