After a soft opening in January for takeaway breakfast only, The Humble Onion was due to open on February 1. Then Perth went into lockdown. Two weeks and much anticipation later, Chris Howard and Caitlin Johnston (both ex-North Bird) finally opened their cafe for dine-in service.
The St Georges Terrace site (most recently home to 100 Cups by Fiori) is the former digs of influential restaurant Greenhouse, where a young Howard worked as apprentice chef. “It’s such a unique venue; the floor is 10 years old. It’s really lasted, which is amazing,” says Howard. “You couldn’t ask for anything better.”
The menu is short and sharp – carefully considered but designed for speed and consistency. Everything is made in-house, from the bacon and HP sauce to the bread it’s sandwiched between, reflecting Howard’s sustainable, DIY ethos. If a cafe staple is to be found, it’s done the Humble Onion way – an artfully presented raclette omelette, say, or brioche pain perdu (French toast) with strawberries, peaches and clotted cream.
“I had someone say they assume there’s going to be avocado toast. If you think that, then you really don’t know me,” says Howard. “People think it’s elevating to overwork things, but it’s actually about stripping it back. If things aren’t executed well, there’s nowhere to hide. A lot of daytime dining is about showing a lot of products, and we aren’t going that route.”
The bubble-and-squeak with house HP and a fried egg takes a simple dish to new heights. You’ll want the smoked sausage with pickled peppers and fresh polenta when you see it on the next table. And the gluten-free, vegan zucchini bread topped with muhummara (red pepper and walnut puree) and tomato salad is unlike any bruschetta you’ve seen before.
“We really want to keep a good balance to the menu, and it’s not easy – it’s a Sudoku puzzle,” says Howard. “If you move one piece, you have to move everything. I think the menu is really balanced as it is. I’m really happy with the response.
“People’s time is valuable,” he continues. “And if they’re investing in an experience, they want to know it’s a good one, so I never just keep it easy. I want to make sure when people come here they don’t think what they’re eating is an afterthought.”
Johnston, a sommelier who also worked with coffee while living in Dublin, is overseeing the drinks program and front-of-house. Swan Valley roaster Fiori remains the venue’s coffee supplier; there’s also beer, plus wines by the glass, bottle or half-bottle from Jauma, Ngeringa and Tripe Iscariot.
The weekday focus means the venue is well suited for after-hours events, and Howard already has plenty on the calendar. “We can host evening and weekend events in ways other venues can’t. It’s very risky to cancel a Friday night service to host an event,” he says.
Howard also promises a hot-sauce challenge and a “chef’s series” with takeovers by eastern-state chefs later in the year.
The Humble Onion
100 St Georges Terrace, Perth
Mon to Fri 6am–3pm