In April 2017, the closure of Greenhouse on St Georges Terrace signalled the end of one of Perth’s more interesting food stories. But soon one of Greenhouse’s former apprentice chefs will be returning to the site – and channelling the restaurant’s green-thinking, DIY vim – when he and his partner open The Humble Onion.
The cafe, slated to open in February 2021, is the first venture from Caitlin Johnston and Chris Howard, who are currently manager and chef respectively at Northbridge’s North Bird (they’re wrapping up their full-time roles this month). The Humble Onion will follow in the footsteps of elevated cafes such as Greenhouse, Bivouac, Cantina 663 and their smart-casual ilk.
“Perth really loves that cafe-by-day, restaurant-by-night sort of set-up,” says Howard. “There are a lot of places that have really gone the distance with that sort of thing. For myself and Caitlin, it’s going to be about those one per cent details that come from having a restaurant background.”
The Humble Onion will initially trade as a daytime venue, while Johnston and Howard get to know exactly what the CBD wants. Howard says the menu will be accessible, but that doesn’t mean guests will be getting “a blueberry muffin and pretty poor coffee”.
Instead, as it was at Greenhouse, house-made items will feature prominently. Howard is planning to make his own sausages, bacon, bread and pasta. A rooftop garden will be established to provide the kitchen with some of its herbs and veg, and fridges and pantries will be stocked with West Australian ingredients sourced from thoughtful farmers. (Regenerative farming co-op Dirty Clean Food will supply the eggs, pork and grass-fed beef.)
Food-wise, expect an all-day breakfast menu, with lunch items starting at midday. Familiarity will underscore the menu, with lots of cafe standards such as eggs, gnocchi, salads and fried-chicken sandwiches.
“I want to be known for a standard rather than specific products,” says Howard. “When you get locked into cooking certain things, you get held to ransom a bit by diners, which is not the way I want to go.”
Johnston, an enthusiastic sommelier who also worked with coffee while living in Dublin, will oversee the drinks program and front-of-house. Coffee, naturally, will be the main focus, although alcohol will be available too. In future, the couple hope to turn the rooftop into a dedicated bar space, but will initially host functions upstairs.