Chef Wirat Pattanakajorn is proud of his homemade curry paste. Fragrant, versatile and unique, it is the aromatic heart of his new Newcastle restaurant.
Wirat opened The Humble Thai with his wife Pawarisa Lertaromrat (Nikki) last month. He is also head chef at Absolute Thai Charlestown, where he has worked for the past seven years. The Humble Thai is the couple's "own little bit of Thai", Nikki says.
It was Nikki who first spied the vacant shop on King Street and Wirat who ran with the idea of opening a restaurant there.
"I walked past and saw this vacant space and sent a photo to my husband - but I didn’t take it seriously," Nikki told Food & Wine.
"At the time, I didn’t really think about opening a restaurant. I just fell in love with the heritage building and delicate tiles. Wirat, on the other hand, contacted the landlord immediately. He thought it was a good chance to share Thai food with Newcastle locals and tourists. One month later, the landlord accepted us when he looked at our business plan."
Nikki and her sister, Apinya Lertaromrat (Aya), took over when it came to styling and branding.
"I wanted the place to be warm and cosy so I chose the chandeliers, wall colour, chairs, tables and decor from what I love - even the name of the restaurant," Nikki said. "And green is my lucky colour. I wanted it to be our brand identity. My little sister understood exactly what I wanted and designed the logo and menu."
The fourth friendly face at The Humble Thai is Nikki's close friend Nutthapha Saijumpa (Fern), who handles the front-of-house duties.
"Humble Thai is different from the others at first glance because of the restaurant design. However, our true uniqueness is homemade curry paste," Nikki said.
"Wirat creates all the dishes based on his inspiration and experience. He always keen to experiment with new flavours and beautiful presentation. He is passionate about cooking. His preference is making homemade curry paste because it's got a wonderful fragrance and there are many kinds of chilli to choose from. Curry paste defines and identifies authentic Thai."
Popular dishes include the seared scallops with lime and mint dressing; mozzarella curried rice balls; papaya salad; Massaman curry with coconut braised beef, potatoes, onion, peanuts and fried shallots; and grilled salmon with Panang curry sauce.
Gluten free and vegan options are available.
Wirat is busy dividing his time between two kitchens but wouldn't have it any other way: "He's a hard-working person but it's his passion. We don’t have any kids yet, so he can reach his dream now," Nikki said.
The Humble Thai is open Wednesday to Monday. Phone 4089 5164.