Lunar by Niall Keating opened with a red carpet reception at World of Wedgwood in Barlaston this November. Katy Edgington learns more from the two-starred chef
Staffordshire born Niall Keating is one of just a handful of chefs in the UK to hold two Michelin stars right now, as Executive Chef of The Dining Room at Whatley Manor in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. You may recognise him as the BBC’s Great British Menu Champion of 2020.
When Ed Myhill and Craig Wilkinson of The Great British Experience Company (the minds behind The Great British Drive In, London experience ‘The Murder Express’ and Stafford’s Alberts Cafe) invited Niall to oversee Lunar, a new modern dining concept opening at World of Wedgwood’s Barlaston site in the heart of Staffordshire, he leapt at the chance.
With a well-deserved reputation as one of the leading chefs in the country today, Niall has of course had various different proposals and opportunities present themselves over the last few years, but he says “nothing felt quite right as coming home”.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to open a restaurant in Staffordshire. I’m so proud of home and to have the opportunity to create something special in the area is really exciting.”
Lunar takes over the former dining hall at the historic Wedgwood estate. The canteen-style setting has been transformed into a sophisticated new restaurant where guests can experience modern British cuisine served only on Wedgwood fine bone china. The team hope it will bring a welcome breath of fresh air to the local food and drink scene.
“Being so close to bigger cities such as Manchester and Birmingham, which have great restaurants and bars, means Stoke often gets forgotten about as somewhere that has great potential for the hospitality industry,” Niall says. “A modern dining experience like Lunar is perfect for the area – and what has been missing. It’s a great chance for people to try something new and for both the staff and guests to get excited about local produce and celebrate the history that’s always been here.”
The opening comes in the wake of a very tough period for the whole hospitality industry, but Niall for one has clearly not been resting on his laurels for the past 18 months. The Paradise Carriage started life as a street food trailer at the Exchange Bar & Kitchen in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. Niall began using it during the first lockdown in 2020 to cook and deliver meals to key workers, before taking it to Whatley Manor as a drive-through takeaway venture. He explained that it played a really important role in keeping his team motivated when the hotel was closed and they didn’t have any guests to feed.
“Getting the Paradise Carriage up and running in the car park, and then taking it on the road in the summer gave us all an opportunity to enjoy cooking some great food that was totally different to what we usually do, and to entertain guests outside of the restaurant was just great fun.”
The Potteries on a plate
Lunar is something altogether different again – a modern dining concept based around contemporary small plates and larger sharing dishes. In their approach to menu design and development, Niall and Craig have taken inspiration from the rich history of Staffordshire, aiming to represent the local heritage of the Potteries on a plate, as well as drawing on their own experiences.
“The idea is for everyone to enjoy sharing food family style, in a relaxed yet elegant setting,” Niall adds. “The menu is inspired by both mine and Craig’s travels, with Asian influences and flavours that showcase new techniques and give guests the chance to try something new.”
From upcycling furniture to working with sustainable suppliers, Lunar has strong environmental and ethical standards running through its veins. There is a prominent focus on nurturing local talent and the team are clearly passionate about using suppliers local to the restaurant as much as possible.
“I’ve already got a great relationship with Perry’s Butchers in Eccleshall, who supplied the geese for one of my dishes on Great British Menu. They are on board and have already stocked our meat aging fridges ready for opening,” says Niall. “Lymestone Brewery in Stone, who make my favourite beer – Einstein – and own a pub called The Borehole, where I always go when I’m back home, are also involved. A close family friend, George Dyke, rears beef a few miles away from home so we are hoping to serve his excellent grass fed beef in the restaurant soon.
As well as these existing relationships, they have met other new suppliers in the area such as Smith’s Milk Churn, a dairy farm between Stone and Stafford, and Courtyard Coffee Roasters in Eccleshall, during the planning process. The ingredients are transformed with great skill and care into an exciting and intriguing menu.
“My favourite dish on the menu has got to be the Staffordshire Clay-Baked Chicken,” says Niall. “Craig had an idea to use clay from Wedgwood in the cooking methods somehow, and we’ve developed a dish that is perfect for sharing at the table: A whole chicken stuffed with treasured rice, that is baked in the clay and then carved for everyone to share.”
Josiah’s DNA runs through the restaurant
Josiah Wedgwood’s influence is apparent throughout your dining experience at Lunar, from the carefully chosen interior palette inspired by his experimentations with colour, down to the industrial aesthetic as a nod to Wedgwood’s place in the industrial revolution.
“The richest part of Stoke’s heritage is the Potteries, and Wedgwood is one of the most renowned and oldest pottery companies, which also has such a prestigious repetition in the hospitality industry – so to have the opportunity to work with them and bring Lunar to their famous site on Wedgwood Drive fits perfectly with the atmosphere we want to create,” explains Niall.
Even the name itself was inspired by the legendary Lunar Society, a supper club formed during the ‘Midlands enlightenment’, of which Josiah Wedgwood was a founding member. It brought together forward thinkers, entrepreneurs, scientists, philosophers, poets and inventors of the time.
Speaking of creative minds, Ed and Craig, also originally from Staffordshire, have spent time traveling around the world as well as establishing their successful events company in recent years. The intention with Lunar is to bring their experiences home and create world-class experiences in their home county. So, how has the team come together?
“We all have different experiences coming from different backgrounds, but working together has given us the chance to be creative together and bring to the table what we do best,” Niall tells me. “Their passion for hospitality and their skills when it comes to design and bringing ideas to life has made the whole experience enjoyable and I am so proud of what we’ve built together. It also helps that we all get on and clicked straight away!”
Lunar, like Wedgwood, is a celebration of the past, present and future. It’s looking to the future and the nurturing of the up-and-coming local hospitality scene that stands out for Niall.
“I’m most proud of the opportunities that Lunar is giving to the team. There is such great talent in the area, so I’m excited to be able to find it and work with a whole bunch of people who have shared interests and want to be part of creating something really exciting.”
A new concept for World of Wedgwood
World of Wedgwood was already home to the iconic Wedgwood tea room, Wedgwood Factory and Wedgwood Flagship Store, and the V&A Wedgwood Collection. They recently opened a new store, Josiah and Co, exclusively selling products handcrafted by local artisans in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire.
“We are delighted, inspired, enthused and extremely proud to be working with Wedgwood,” says co-director Craig. “The synergy, values and ambitions we all have could not be more aligned and we’re looking forward to making Lunar a destination that we can all enjoy and be proud of for many years to come.”
Alongside Lunar, the Wedgwood estate has also welcomed a new garden Landpod, where guests can enjoy takeaway afternoon tea, reflecting their ambition to create a leisure and hospitality destination to attract visitors from far and wide.
“We are delighted to welcome Lunar to Barlaston,” comments Jemma Harrison, newly appointed Head of World of Wedgwood. “The combined passion and experience of Niall, Ed and Craig brings something unique and very, very special to Staffordshire; it’s been a real privilege to be involved in this project and I’m so excited to see the concept come to life at World of Wedgwood.”
As are we at J’AIME. But finally, as a North Staffordshire native, it was impossible not to ask – what does Niall have on his oatcakes? “Sausage, bacon, brown sauce. Always.”
To view a sample menu and book a table at Lunar by Niall Keating, visit www.lunarwedgwood.com.