It’s far from bah humbug at this Hunter Street restaurant
Situated along the heart of Newcastle CBD’s leafy strip, Hunter St Mall is HUMBUG, a wine bar and restaurant bringing a fresh and playful approach to the local hospitality industry.
Brought to you by local couple, Michael Portley and Stephanie Wells, HUMBUG is an amalgamation of the couples’ love for the hospitality industry and their love of entertaining and hosting friends and family in their home.
“HUMBUG is how we like to wine and dine and how we express our love to family and friends; it’s our heart and soul,” Michael said.
Those who consider themselves big foodies in Newcastle may recognise Michael’s face as he’s been Head Chef at two of Newcastle’s top venues; Subo and The Edwards, alongside an exceptional career in kitchens all across Australia.
Joining forces with his passionate hospitality-minded partner, Steph, the pair have been seeking out a space of their own in Newcastle for almost two years. Having fallen upon the Hunter St location almost by accident, it was October 2021 HUMBUG started to take shape.
HUMBUG officially opened its doors on the 19th of January and has been designed by Steph, pulling on her years of experience as an Event Stylist and working front of house in the hospitality industry with both workflow and customer experience at the heart of the finished design.
First and foremost, the restaurant needed to be functional and have an efficient workflow. Steph, having ADHD, it was paramount for the design to work for her.
“Small details like walking behind the bar constantly to get wine top-ups or standing on a crate to get to higher shelves in the middle of a busy service are obstacles.
“This all might seem trivial, but those extra 30 seconds you spend doing this every time for every table, does add up quickly. But also, having ADHD there are simply more opportunities to get distracted and forget the task at hand altogether,” Steph said.
The guest experience is also one worth exploring, with Steph also pulling on her vast experience to create a customer experience that’s worth bragging about. Each dining space can be considered desirable, with some featuring contemporary Tasmanian Oak screens to create barriers between tables and another to create a cosy booth for three to create intimacy in what would have otherwise been a thoroughfare.
Overall, the aesthetics of the venue were designed to appease Steph’s neurodiverse traits and to be quite homely.
“The neutral colour palette, layered timber finishes, colourful pops of art from local artists, and living plants all create a sense of calm and joy.”
Joining Michael in the kitchen are Chefs David Gleadhill and Jordy Leeson. Both have worked with Michael in the past and are both exceptionally talented with careers that have spanned some of Australia’s greatest restaurants. The three, together, share a passion for anything delicious and unpretentious.
The food menu and wine list have been thoughtfully curated with the intention for diners to enjoy a playful and adventurous dining experience. With noodles and snacks sitting at the core of the couples’ food passion, you can expect a lot of pasta with flavour influences from across the globe. For example, the spaghetti, clams, and dry ramen.
“The list of snacks will be a selection of small bites and will be tailored to what is being poured by the glass. Expect to see natural oysters paired with a mineral-driven Pet nat or Muscadet and Spicy Bonito Crudo to go with Rosato style wines.”
At lunch, they are serving sandwiches on their house-made sourdough focaccia. A lightly crispy crust is covered in seeds and rosemary while the crumb remains light and soft and is stuffed with a range of local charcuterie or wood-fired antipasti. Grab a sandwich to go or stay for a lazy lunch and pair with their pasta and salads.
The newcomer to Newcastle’s restaurant scene is championing small local producers by working alongside some of the best producers in our area. Michael has built great relationships with the teams from Hungerford Meat Co, Jesmond Fruit Barn, Newcastle Greens, Shane’s Seafood, and Stelle Maris Oysters. So, not only are you eating great food, but you’re also eating great local food.
The wine list is solely curated by Steph, featuring all-sustainable wines focussing on varietals from vineyards focussing on viticultural practices that look at restoring soil health and regenerating biodiversity in the vineyard and surrounding area.
Looking over the wine list, which is laid out in wine styles, you can see a tight collection of wine options, made specifically so as not to overwhelm you, the customer.
“My style of wine service is very casual, and I don’t want guests to get caught up in pronunciations or bogged down in the academic side of wines. I just want people to come in with an open mind, ask questions, and try anything that piques their interest. Wine is fascinating and ultimately made to be drunk and enjoyed with loved ones.”
For the non-alcoholic drinkers, the duo has thought of it all with the launch of their Shrubs and Iced Teas, each of which are packed full of flavour and all made in-house by the team's chefs.
“The [Shrubs] are delicious, so full of flavour, and looked beautiful dressed up on a whisky glass with garnish. When we designed the beverage list, the non-alcoholic section was always a high priority and will always be interesting and evolving.”
Having worked with a number of local creatives and getting community support from all the people in their lives, HUMBUG has truly been a collaboration of all those closest to Michael and Stephanie.
The pair worked with the ever-so-talented Brett Piva to create their funky logo; featured delightful artworks by local artists Ellie Hannon, Holly Leonardson, and James Rhodes; plus a special piece by Adelaide-based artist and friend, James Brown; pendants and bar sconce crafted by Newcastle designer Amy Vidler; and lucky last, serving plates crafted by Newcastle artist and ceramicist, Ros Elkin.
But what about the name? What exactly does HUMBUG stand for?
“We wanted something nonsensical and not too literal. We wanted to be able to adapt what we do a little bit without feeling too locked into anything, and it had to have a good ring to it. It’s also a bit of a throwback to an Arctic Monkeys album which is an awesome album that has a really special place in my heart,” Michael said.
The Hunter St venue is open Wednesday through to Saturday from midday til late, making it a great spot to drop in for a midday fix, an afternoon delight, or a dinner catchup. Get along to HUMBUG and experience the funky, playful, and delicious offering available.